One of the biggest problems organizations face when trying to solve challenges is treating only the symptoms, rather than the root cause. This often leads to a situation where the problems persist even after the organization thinks they have taken action to solve them. In order to effectively solve challenges, it’s crucial to first identify the root cause of the problem.

Step 1: Define the Problem

The first step in identifying the root cause of a challenge is to clearly define the problem. This involves describing the problem in specific, measurable terms, and stating why it’s a problem. For example, instead of saying “employee morale is low,” a more specific definition of the problem might be “50% of employees are reporting low morale in a recent survey, resulting in decreased productivity and higher turnover rates.”

Step 2: Use the “5 Whys” Method

The “5 Whys” method is a simple, but effective, way to get to the root cause of a problem. The idea is to keep asking “why” until the root cause is identified. For example, using the example from Step 1:

  1. Why is employee morale low?
  2. Why are 50% of employees reporting low morale?
  3. Why are these employees feeling low morale?
  4. Why are these specific factors affecting employee morale?
  5. Why are these factors present in the organization?

By repeating this process, you will eventually arrive at the root cause of the problem.

Step 3: Brainstorm Possible Causes

In addition to the “5 Whys” method, it’s also useful to brainstorm possible causes of the challenge. This can be done individually or as a team, and involves generating a list of potential causes for the problem. Once the list is created, the causes can be evaluated and narrowed down based on the data and information available.

Step 4: Evaluate Evidence

The next step is to evaluate the evidence for each potential cause. This can be done by collecting data, conducting interviews, and using other methods to gather information about the potential causes. The goal is to determine which causes are the most likely, based on the available evidence.

Step 5: Confirm the Root Cause

Once the potential causes have been evaluated, it’s time to confirm the root cause. This can be done by testing the hypothesis and seeing if the problem is solved when the root cause is addressed. For example, if the root cause is determined to be a lack of training and development opportunities for employees, a test could be implemented to see if providing these opportunities leads to an improvement in employee morale.

Step 6: Develop a Solution

The final step is to develop a solution that addresses the root cause of the problem. This solution should be designed to solve the root cause, not just the symptoms. For example, if the root cause of low employee morale is a lack of training and development opportunities, the solution should be focused on providing these opportunities, rather than just addressing the low morale directly.


Identifying the root cause of a challenge is a critical step in effectively solving problems in an organization. By using the “5 Whys” method, brainstorming potential causes, evaluating evidence, and confirming the root cause through testing, organizations can ensure they are addressing the root cause and not just the symptoms. Implementing these steps can lead to more effective and sustainable solutions to challenges.

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