Have you ever seen a problem tree?

Well, they come in all shapes and sizes but they might look something like this:

problem tree

What is it I hear you cry?

It is a facilitation tool used to analyse problems and to enable a group of people to start to prioritise and plan. You use it with groups who have a problem that they need to get to the bottom of. It enables them to identify the main problem, the causes and effects. Once these have been analysed the ground is laid to work on a solutions.

1) You need to discuss and decide what the problem is. This identification process may take some time and could well be a piece of work in itself. Once you have identified the problem this is written across the trunk. In this example “Poor communication between management and staff”.

2) You need to work with participants to identify the causes of the problem. This can be done for example by brainstorming in a large group or smaller groups. These causes are added where the roots of the tree are and can be written on post-it notes before hand so that they can be rearranged and reordered as necessary. You may be further able to analyse these causes and where the roots of a tree split, divide and subdivide you can add different sections and subsections of each of these causes. In this example they are things like “Lots of staff changes”, but sub roots or causes of this could be loss of project funding, less staff needed etc.

3) Then you can identify the effects, or impacts of the problem. This can be done using a similar method to above. These ideas are added where the leaves and branches of the tree are. Again as a tree’s branches divide and form smaller branches, there may be subsections and secondary effects of the effects and you can add smaller branches to include these. For example “Demotivated staff” may lead to poor performance, staff leaving etc.

Of course you don’t have to use a picture of a real tree, but you can use any kind of diagram or picture that you can draw branches and sub-branches on, like the one below:


problem tree


Once you have analysed the problems, you can use the information to start on the next piece of work; problem solving.

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