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Math Starters: 10 Simple Strategies

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problem solving maths starters

Ignite student learning with math starters— quick activities used at the beginning of math class to engage your kids’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. This post shares 10 math starters that will jump-start student learning.

On my first day as a middle school teacher, my principal said the strangest thing.

He said, “Your students cannot leave during the first five or last five minutes of class.” 

Why? I thought to myself.

Maybe he didn’t want students to get caught in a tardy sweep?

I had no clue. 

“Because,” as he said, “they are the most important minutes of the class period.”

I’d never heard that before, but it made me stop and think about the message behind it. 

As I thought more about this expectation, I finally understood.

I needed to grab my students’ attention during the first five minutes of class– which meant I should program the first five minutes with a fun and engaging math starter. 

What are Math Starters?

Math starters, critical thinking activities , designed to get students thinking about math, provide opportunities to “sneak” in grade-level content and skills in a fun and engaging way. Intended to take no more than 5 -10 minutes of instructional time, starters can include a wide variety of tasks.

Over the years, I have used a number of starters, including number of the day and word wall activities; however, my favorite activities are challenges that allow me to reinforce a variety of critical thinking and problem-solving strategies. 

Math Starter Ideas

Here’s a list of my favorite ways to jump-start my math class. 

This logic puzzle is one of my favorite math starters.

Emphasize Algebraic Thinking

1. Ask students to find five ways to represent a number, such as 1000, or have students represent the day of the month or the ____ day of school in a variety of ways.

2. Encourage algebraic thinking with number logic. To complete the task, students must determine the value of one or more symbols, such as snowflake + snowflake = 12 and snowflake – snowman = 2.

3. Challenge students with a logic puzzle . To create this puzzle, fill a 3 x 3 grid with three or four different objects, such as some fun seasonal erasers (you will need multiples of some objects). Then assign each object a value (keep it secret). Record the sum of each row or column on the outside of the table and challenge the students to find the value of each object. (See the picture above for an example.)

problem solving maths starters

Encourage Problem Solving

4. Give students a quick problem-solving task to complete, such as “During the winter snow season, the Snowy Mountain Coffee Spot sells hot chocolate for 47 cents. If Katrina paid for a cup of hot chocolate with exactly five coins (quarters, nickels, dimes, or pennies), which five coins did she use?” Note: Consider opening the task by removing the condition of “five” to say “which coins did she use?” (See the image above.) 

5. Challenge students with an Open Middle task. These tasks end with the same solution but have multiple solution paths to allow students at various levels to achieve success. 

Number clues is a great critical thinking task.

Use Clues to Eliminate Options

6. Give students clues to determine the mystery number. See the example below.

The number is:

  • not an odd number,
  • more than the value of a penny,
  • less than the number that is two more than five,
  • more than the number of sides on a square.

7. Using a set of pattern blocks, give students clues, and have them sequence the pattern blocks within a horizontal set of four numbered boxes. For example, students can order the hexagon, the blue rhombus, the trapezoid, and the triangle with the following clues.

  • There is a quadrilateral in the even-numbered boxes.
  • The shape with the least number of sides is not on the right side.
  • The shape with one pair of parallel sides is not next to the triangle.

Analyze Relationships

8. Review math vocabulary with “What’s the Relationship?” To use this activity, write 5 – 7 related math words on the board. Then have students determine how the words are related to each other. Add a twist by including a non-related word and ask students to determine which word doesn’t belong.

9. Create a Venn Diagram with pattern blocks and then ask students to determine the common attribute for each set of shapes.

Number tiles are great for fact practice.

Build Number Sense

10. Tiling tasks require students to use a set of numbered tiles, 0-9, to complete a set of problems. Typically, each tile fits in one, and only one, solution. Use tiling tasks, like the one above, to challenge students to find the value of each symbol. (Use the form below to grab this freebie and challenge your students!)

Engage ‘Em from the Start!

Let’s jump-start the new semester with a bang! Start your next math class with one of the activities above. Then tell us all about it in the comments below.

Give one of the ideas above a try. Then tell us about your experience in the comments below.

problem solving maths starters

Shametria Routt Banks

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Mammoth Starter Packs

Possibly my biggest project since the piximaths aiming for revision guides , a huge selection of gcse starter tasks - 2 or 3 questions for every lesson of the year for students to practice. similar to the  aiming for  booklets, these are split into rough grade guesses to help you select the best pack for your class..

Click the term (Autumn, Spring or Summer).

Select the week of the term and the lesson of the week.

Give students 5 to 10 minutes on the questions - some require a calculator.

Go through the solutions as a class.

Use the home symbol in the bottom left to take you back to the first page.

No printing required!

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20 Effective Math Strategies To Approach Problem-Solving 

Katie Keeton

Math strategies for problem-solving help students use a range of approaches to solve many different types of problems. It involves identifying the problem and carrying out a plan of action to find the answer to mathematical problems.  

Problem-solving skills are essential to math in the general classroom and real-life. They require logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Students must be equipped with strategies to help them find solutions to problems.

This article explores mathematical problem solving strategies, logical reasoning and critical thinking skills to help learners with solving math word problems independently in real-life situations. 

What are problem-solving strategies?

Problem-solving strategies in math are methods students can use to figure out solutions to math problems. Some problem-solving strategies: 

  • Draw a model
  • Use different approaches
  • Check the inverse to make sure the answer is correct

Students need to have a toolkit of math problem-solving strategies at their disposal to provide different ways to approach math problems. This makes it easier to find solutions and understand math better. 

Strategies can help guide students to the solution when it is difficult ot know when to start.

The ultimate guide to problem solving techniques

The ultimate guide to problem solving techniques

Download these ready-to-go problem solving techniques that every student should know. Includes printable tasks for students including challenges, short explanations for teachers with questioning prompts.

20 Math Strategies For Problem-Solving

Different problem-solving math strategies are required for different parts of the problem. It is unlikely that students will use the same strategy to understand and solve the problem. 

Here are 20 strategies to help students develop their problem-solving skills. 

Strategies to understand the problem

Strategies that help students understand the problem before solving it helps ensure they understand: 

  • The context
  • What the key information is
  • How to form a plan to solve it

Following these steps leads students to the correct solution and makes the math word problem easier .

Here are five strategies to help students understand the content of the problem and identify key information. 

1. Read the problem aloud

Read a word problem aloud to help understand it. Hearing the words engages auditory processing. This can make it easier to process and comprehend the context of the situation.

2. Highlight keywords 

When keywords are highlighted in a word problem, it helps the student focus on the essential information needed to solve it. Some important keywords help determine which operation is needed.  For example, if the word problem asks how many are left, the problem likely requires subtraction.  Ensure students highlight the keywords carefully and do not highlight every number or keyword. There is likely irrelevant information in the word problem.

3. Summarize the information

Read the problem aloud, highlight the key information and then summarize the information. Students can do this in their heads or write down a quick summary.  Summaries should include only the important information and be in simple terms that help contextualize the problem.

4. Determine the unknown

A common problem that students have when solving a word problem is misunderstanding what they are solving. Determine what the unknown information is before finding the answer.  Often, a word problem contains a question where you can find the unknown information you need to solve. For example, in the question ‘How many apples are left?’ students need to find the number of apples left over.

5. Make a plan

Once students understand the context of the word problem, have dentified the important information and determined the unknown, they can make a plan to solve it.  The plan will depend on the type of problem. Some problems involve more than one step to solve them as some require more than one answer.  Encourage students to make a list of each step they need to take to solve the problem before getting started.

Strategies for solving the problem 

1. draw a model or diagram.

Students may find it useful to draw a model, picture, diagram, or other visual aid to help with the problem solving process.  It can help to visualize the problem to understand the relationships between the numbers in the problem. In turn, this helps students see the solution.

math problem that needs a problem solving strategy

Similarly, you could draw a model to represent the objects in the problem:

math problem requiring problem solving

2. Act it out

This particular strategy is applicable at any grade level but is especially helpful in math investigation in elementary school . It involves a physical demonstration or students acting out the problem using movements, concrete resources and math manipulatives .  When students act out a problem, they can visualize and contectualize the word problem in another way and secure an understanding of the math concepts.  The examples below show how 1st-grade students could “act out” an addition and subtraction problem:

3. Work backwards

Working backwards is a popular problem-solving strategy. It involves starting with a possible solution and deciding what steps to take to arrive at that solution.  This strategy can be particularly helpful when students solve math word problems involving multiple steps. They can start at the end and think carefully about each step taken as opposed to jumping to the end of the problem and missing steps in between.

For example,

problem solving math question 1

To solve this problem working backwards, start with the final condition, which is Sam’s grandmother’s age (71) and work backwards to find Sam’s age. Subtract 20 from the grandmother’s age, which is 71.  Then, divide the result by 3 to get Sam’s age. 71 – 20 = 51 51 ÷ 3 = 17 Sam is 17 years old.

4. Write a number sentence

When faced with a word problem, encourage students to write a number sentence based on the information. This helps translate the information in the word problem into a math equation or expression, which is more easily solved.  It is important to fully understand the context of the word problem and what students need to solve before writing an equation to represent it.

5. Use a formula

Specific formulas help solve many math problems. For example, if a problem asks students to find the area of a rug, they would use the area formula (area = length × width) to solve.   Make sure students know the important mathematical formulas they will need in tests and real-life. It can help to display these around the classroom or, for those who need more support, on students’ desks.

Strategies for checking the solution 

Once the problem is solved using an appropriate strategy, it is equally important to check the solution to ensure it is correct and makes sense. 

There are many strategies to check the solution. The strategy for a specific problem is dependent on the problem type and math content involved.

Here are five strategies to help students check their solutions. 

1. Use the Inverse Operation

For simpler problems, a quick and easy problem solving strategy is to use the inverse operation. For example, if the operation to solve a word problem is 56 ÷ 8 = 7 students can check the answer is correct by multiplying 8 × 7. As good practice, encourage students to use the inverse operation routinely to check their work. 

2. Estimate to check for reasonableness

Once students reach an answer, they can use estimation or rounding to see if the answer is reasonable.  Round each number in the equation to a number that’s close and easy to work with, usually a multiple of ten.  For example, if the question was 216 ÷ 18 and the quotient was 12, students might round 216 to 200 and round 18 to 20. Then use mental math to solve 200 ÷ 20, which is 10.  When the estimate is clear the two numbers are close. This means your answer is reasonable. 

3. Plug-In Method

This method is particularly useful for algebraic equations. Specifically when working with variables.  To use the plug-in method, students solve the problem as asked and arrive at an answer. They can then plug the answer into the original equation to see if it works. If it does, the answer is correct.

Problem solving math problem 2

If students use the equation 20m+80=300 to solve this problem and find that m = 11, they can plug that value back into the equation to see if it is correct. 20m + 80 = 300 20 (11) + 80 = 300 220 + 80 = 300 300 = 300 ✓

4. Peer Review

Peer review is a great tool to use at any grade level as it promotes critical thinking and collaboration between students. The reviewers can look at the problem from a different view as they check to see if the problem was solved correctly.   Problem solvers receive immediate feedback and the opportunity to discuss their thinking with their peers. This strategy is effective with mixed-ability partners or similar-ability partners. In mixed-ability groups, the partner with stronger skills provides guidance and support to the partner with weaker skills, while reinforcing their own understanding of the content and communication skills.  If partners have comparable ability levels and problem-solving skills, they may find that they approach problems differently or have unique insights to offer each other about the problem-solving process.

5. Use a Calculator

A calculator can be introduced at any grade level but may be best for older students who already have a foundational understanding of basic math operations. Provide students with a calculator to allow them to check their solutions independently, accurately, and quickly. Since calculators are so readily available on smartphones and tablets, they allow students to develop practical skills that apply to real-world situations.  

Step-by-step problem-solving processes for your classroom

In his book, How to Solve It , published in 1945, mathematician George Polya introduced a 4-step process to solve problems. 

Polya’s 4 steps include:

  • Understand the problem
  • Devise a plan
  • Carry out the plan

Today, in the style of George Polya, many problem-solving strategies use various acronyms and steps to help students recall. 

Many teachers create posters and anchor charts of their chosen process to display in their classrooms. They can be implemented in any elementary, middle school or high school classroom. 

Here are 5 problem-solving strategies to introduce to students and use in the classroom.

CUBES math strategy for problem solving

How Third Space Learning improves problem-solving 

Resources .

Third Space Learning offers a free resource library is filled with hundreds of high-quality resources. A team of experienced math experts carefully created each resource to develop students mental arithmetic, problem solving and critical thinking. 

Explore the range of problem solving resources for 2nd to 8th grade students. 

One-on-one tutoring 

Third Space Learning offers one-on-one math tutoring to help students improve their math skills. Highly qualified tutors deliver high-quality lessons aligned to state standards. 

Former teachers and math experts write all of Third Space Learning’s tutoring lessons. Expertly designed lessons follow a “my turn, follow me, your turn” pedagogy to help students move from guided instruction and problem-solving to independent practice. 

Throughout each lesson, tutors ask higher-level thinking questions to promote critical thinking and ensure students are developing a deep understanding of the content and problem-solving skills.

problem solving maths starters

Problem-solving

Educators can use many different strategies to teach problem-solving and help students develop and carry out a plan when solving math problems. Incorporate these math strategies into any math program and use them with a variety of math concepts, from whole numbers and fractions to algebra. 

Teaching students how to choose and implement problem-solving strategies helps them develop mathematical reasoning skills and critical thinking they can apply to real-life problem-solving.

READ MORE : 8 Common Core math examples

There are many different strategies for problem-solving; Here are 5 problem-solving strategies: • draw a model  • act it out  • work backwards  • write a number sentence • use a formula

Here are 10 strategies of problem-solving: • Read the problem aloud • Highlight keywords • Summarize the information • Determine the unknown • Make a plan • Draw a model  • Act it out  • Work backwards  • Write a number sentence • Use a formula

1. Understand the problem 2. Devise a plan 3. Carry out the plan 4. Look back

Some strategies you can use to solve challenging math problems are: breaking the problem into smaller parts, using diagrams or models, applying logical reasoning, and trying different approaches.

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30 Colourful Starters for Maths

30 Colourful Starters for Maths

Subject: Mathematics

Age range: 11-14

Resource type: Game/puzzle/quiz

May Degan

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For everyone whose relationship with mathematics is distant or broken, Jo Boaler , a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE), has ideas for repairing it. She particularly wants young people to feel comfortable with numbers from the start – to approach the subject with playfulness and curiosity, not anxiety or dread.

“Most people have only ever experienced what I call narrow mathematics – a set of procedures they need to follow, at speed,” Boaler says. “Mathematics should be flexible, conceptual, a place where we play with ideas and make connections. If we open it up and invite more creativity, more diverse thinking, we can completely transform the experience.”

Boaler, the Nomellini and Olivier Professor of Education at the GSE, is the co-founder and faculty director of Youcubed , a Stanford research center that provides resources for math learning that has reached more than 230 million students in over 140 countries. In 2013 Boaler, a former high school math teacher, produced How to Learn Math , the first massive open online course (MOOC) on mathematics education. She leads workshops and leadership summits for teachers and administrators, and her online courses have been taken by over a million users.

In her new book, Math-ish: Finding Creativity, Diversity, and Meaning in Mathematics , Boaler argues for a broad, inclusive approach to math education, offering strategies and activities for learners at any age. We spoke with her about why creativity is an important part of mathematics, the impact of representing numbers visually and physically, and how what she calls “ishing” a math problem can help students make better sense of the answer.

What do you mean by “math-ish” thinking?

It’s a way of thinking about numbers in the real world, which are usually imprecise estimates. If someone asks how old you are, how warm it is outside, how long it takes to drive to the airport – these are generally answered with what I call “ish” numbers, and that’s very different from the way we use and learn numbers in school.

In the book I share an example of a multiple-choice question from a nationwide exam where students are asked to estimate the sum of two fractions: 12/13 + 7/8. They’re given four choices for the closest answer: 1, 2, 19, or 21. Each of the fractions in the question is very close to 1, so the answer would be 2 – but the most common answer 13-year-olds gave was 19. The second most common was 21.

I’m not surprised, because when students learn fractions, they often don’t learn to think conceptually or to consider the relationship between the numerator or denominator. They learn rules about creating common denominators and adding or subtracting the numerators, without making sense of the fraction as a whole. But stepping back and judging whether a calculation is reasonable might be the most valuable mathematical skill a person can develop.

But don’t you also risk sending the message that mathematical precision isn’t important?

I’m not saying precision isn’t important. What I’m suggesting is that we ask students to estimate before they calculate, so when they come up with a precise answer, they’ll have a real sense for whether it makes sense. This also helps students learn how to move between big-picture and focused thinking, which are two different but equally important modes of reasoning.

Some people ask me, “Isn’t ‘ishing’ just estimating?” It is, but when we ask students to estimate, they often groan, thinking it’s yet another mathematical method. But when we ask them to “ish” a number, they're more willing to offer their thinking.

Ishing helps students develop a sense for numbers and shapes. It can help soften the sharp edges in mathematics, making it easier for kids to jump in and engage. It can buffer students against the dangers of perfectionism, which we know can be a damaging mindset. I think we all need a little more ish in our lives.

You also argue that mathematics should be taught in more visual ways. What do you mean by that?

For most people, mathematics is an almost entirely symbolic, numerical experience. Any visuals are usually sterile images in a textbook, showing bisecting angles, or circles divided into slices. But the way we function in life is by developing models of things in our minds. Take a stapler: Knowing what it looks like, what it feels and sounds like, how to interact with it, how it changes things – all of that contributes to our understanding of how it works.

There’s an activity we do with middle-school students where we show them an image of a 4 x 4 x 4 cm cube made up of smaller 1 cm cubes, like a Rubik’s Cube. The larger cube is dipped into a can of blue paint, and we ask the students, if they could take apart the little cubes, how many sides would be painted blue? Sometimes we give the students sugar cubes and have them physically build a larger 4 x 4 x 4 cube. This is an activity that leads into algebraic thinking.

Some years back we were interviewing students a year after they’d done that activity in our summer camp and asked what had stayed with them. One student said, “I’m in geometry class now, and I still remember that sugar cube, what it looked like and felt like.” His class had been asked to estimate the volume of their shoes, and he said he’d imagined his shoes filled with 1 cm sugar cubes in order to solve that question. He had built a mental model of a cube.

When we learn about cubes, most of us don’t get to see and manipulate them. When we learn about square roots, we don’t take squares and look at their diagonals. We just manipulate numbers.

I wonder if people consider the physical representations more appropriate for younger kids.

That’s the thing – elementary school teachers are amazing at giving kids those experiences, but it dies out in middle school, and by high school it’s all symbolic. There’s a myth that there’s a hierarchy of sophistication where you start out with visual and physical representations and then build up to the symbolic. But so much of high-level mathematical work now is visual. Here in Silicon Valley, if you look at Tesla engineers, they're drawing, they're sketching, they're building models, and nobody says that's elementary mathematics.

There’s an example in the book where you’ve asked students how they would calculate 38 x 5 in their heads, and they come up with several different ways of arriving at the same answer. The creativity is fascinating, but wouldn’t it be easier to teach students one standard method?

A depiction of various ways to calculate 38 x 5, numerically and visually.

A depiction of various ways to calculate 38 x 5, numerically and visually. | Courtesy Jo Boaler

That narrow, rigid version of mathematics where there’s only one right approach is what most students experience, and it’s a big part of why people have such math trauma. It keeps them from realizing the full range and power of mathematics. When you only have students blindly memorizing math facts, they’re not developing number sense. They don’t learn how to use numbers flexibly in different situations. It also makes students who think differently believe there’s something wrong with them.

When we open mathematics to acknowledge the different ways a concept or problem can be viewed, we also open the subject to many more students. Mathematical diversity, to me, is a concept that includes both the value of diversity in people and the diverse ways we can see and learn mathematics. When we bring those forms of diversity together, it’s powerful. If we want to value different ways of thinking and problem-solving in the world, we need to embrace mathematical diversity.

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Meadowbrook Middle School math teacher has students singing and solving problems

ORLANDO, Fla. — Students and administrators say Jacqueline Russell’s innovative teaching methods and her stimulating and inclusive classroom environment light a fire in the souls of her students.

What You Need To Know

Jacqueline russell teaches math at meadowbrook middle school   russell knows some students can be intimidated by math    she's passionate about finding ways to make learning fun here’s how you can nominate an a+ teacher 🍎.

Russell pours her heart and soul into teaching her sixth-graders at Meadowbrook Middle School.

"A lot of times they don't want to leave," she says. "They want to be in here, so if I say, like, it's time to go, they're like, ‘Can we finish this?’ They want to stay, or they want to come back another period, ‘But you can't. You have to go to your other classes.’ Because now they're involved in it, and they're engaged in it."

Russell can be heard leading her students in songs meant to help them figure out problems.

"A lot of kids are intimidated by education period — math especially. So, I figured if I made it fun, engaging, they would be more willing to learn, and they do. I get like 100% engagement when they are using songs," she says.

That is music to the ears of her students, who stay busy working together in teams, tackling hands-on projects and solving problems in a fast-paced setting.

Those are the building blocks and the foundation to creating lifelong learners.

"I love math. I love teaching math," Russell adds. "I love teaching it in a non-traditional way."

It all adds up for her students, who can't seem to get enough.

"With our Math Lit club, it's just tutoring," Russell says. "And we couldn't get kids to come to tutoring, so I said, ‘Let me just start a club,’ and I started a Math Lit club because all the kids want to be a part of something. I had over 50 kids sign up in two days."

That excitement is multiplied thanks to Russell’s positive praise.

"I just saw kids wanting to learn math more and loving it and wanting to come to math class," Russell says. "Before, they didn't want to come in, some of them. They were very intimidated."

But not anymore. Not in Russell’s class.

"It is the most rewarding thing when a student can come back to you and say, 'I get it now.' So that was a plus for me and for them," Russell says.

ChatGPT’s Next Magic Trick Is Singing and Solving Math Problems With Your Phone Camera

GPT-4o responds as fast as humans.

Open AI's GPT-4o being demoed.

ChatGPT 4 may still be relatively new, but OpenAI is already iterating with an upgrade that can respond as quickly as humans do in normal conversation. The company showed off GPT-4o in a live demo , showing off its ability to use your phone’s camera to solve math equations and deliver a much more conversational voice assistant experience.

While we only have the event demo to go off of, GPT-4o looks impressive. It doesn’t even have to wait for you to finish your request and can roll with interruptions mid-prompt, bringing one step closer to living out Her in real life.

Even Faster Response Times

According to OpenAI, the GPT-4o model can respond as fast as 232 milliseconds to audio inputs. More realistically, it averages around 320 milliseconds to respond, which OpenAI said is similar to how fast humans respond in conversation.

On top of the speed, GPT-4o can handle interruptions and any adjustment requests. As seen in the bedtime story demo, GPT-4o immediately stopped talking when interrupted and quickly handled requests like adding more dramatic inflections, narrating in a robot voice, and even singing the entire prompt out loud. If that demo doesn’t convince you, two GPT-4o models improvising a song together should.

GPT-4o isn’t just more responsive to voice, it can also see better. The new vision features allow it to see through your device’s camera and understand things like handwritten math equations or messages . It’s eerie how genuinely touched GPT-4o sounds when it sees and understands a message that says “I Heart ChatGPT.” Even more impressive, GPT-4o can handle coding tasks and live translations between two people. This should feel way more natural than Google Translate when you’re trying to have a conversation in a foreign country.

Available for Free

OpenAI said the text and image capabilities for GPT-4o roll out today, but the voice feature will be coming to alpha within ChatGPT Plus in the coming weeks. Once it’s fully ready, the upgraded ChatGPT model will be available to all users, subscribers or otherwise. However, if you pay $20 per month for ChatGPT Plus , you’ll get five times the message limits of GPT-4o compared to the free version.

Anytime a large language model gets such an impressive update, we have to consider the potential for misuse . Considering how smoothly the live demo for solving the equation went, it looks like an even better way to help students get out of their math homework. However, OpenAI said that GPT-4o was built with new safety systems to offer guardrails on voice outputs. We’ll have to wait and see if these guardrails are enough.

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HBR On Strategy podcast series

A Better Framework for Solving Tough Problems

Start with trust and end with speed.

  • Apple Podcasts

When it comes to solving complicated problems, the default for many organizational leaders is to take their time to work through the issues at hand. Unfortunately, that often leads to patchwork solutions or problems not truly getting resolved.

But Anne Morriss offers a different framework. In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem and explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership. As she says, “Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.”

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the coauthor of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems .

Key episode topics include: strategy, decision making and problem solving, strategy execution, managing people, collaboration and teams, trustworthiness, organizational culture, change leadership, problem solving, leadership.

HBR On Strategy curates the best case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, to help you unlock new ways of doing business. New episodes every week.

  • Listen to the full HBR IdeaCast episode: How to Solve Tough Problems Better and Faster (2023)
  • Find more episodes of HBR IdeaCast
  • Discover 100 years of Harvard Business Review articles, case studies, podcasts, and more at HBR.org .

HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR On Strategy , case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock new ways of doing business.

When it comes to solving complicated problems, many leaders only focus on the most apparent issues. Unfortunately that often leads to patchwork or partial solutions. But Anne Morriss offers a different framework that aims to truly tackle big problems by first leaning into trust and then focusing on speed.

Morriss is an entrepreneur and leadership coach. She’s also the co-author of the book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leader’s Guide to Solving Hard Problems . In this episode, she outlines a five-step process for solving any problem. Some, she says, can be solved in a week, while others take much longer. She also explains why starting with trust and ending with speed is so important for effective change leadership.

This episode originally aired on HBR IdeaCast in October 2023. Here it is.

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Problems can be intimidating. Sure, some problems are fun to dig into. You roll up your sleeves, you just take care of them; but others, well, they’re complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your brain around a problem, much less fix it.

And that’s especially true for leaders in organizations where problems are often layered and complex. They sometimes demand technical, financial, or interpersonal knowledge to fix. And whether it’s avoidance on the leaders’ part or just the perception that a problem is systemic or even intractable, problems find a way to endure, to keep going, to keep being a problem that everyone tries to work around or just puts up with.

But today’s guest says that just compounds it and makes the problem harder to fix. Instead, she says, speed and momentum are key to overcoming a problem.

Anne Morriss is an entrepreneur, leadership coach and founder of the Leadership Consortium and with Harvard Business School Professor Francis Frei, she wrote the new book, Move Fast and Fix Things: The Trusted Leaders Guide to Solving Hard Problems . Anne, welcome back to the show.

ANNE MORRISS: Curt, thank you so much for having me.

CURT NICKISCH: So, to generate momentum at an organization, you say that you really need speed and trust. We’ll get into those essential ingredients some more, but why are those two essential?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, the essential pattern that we observed was that the most effective change leaders out there were building trust and speed, and it didn’t seem to be a well-known observation. We all know the phrase, “Move fast and break things,” but the people who were really getting it right were moving fast and fixing things, and that was really our jumping off point. So when we dug into the pattern, what we observed was they were building trust first and then speed. This foundation of trust was what allowed them to fix more things and break fewer.

CURT NICKISCH: Trust sounds like a slow thing, right? If you talk about building trust, that is something that takes interactions, it takes communication, it takes experiences. Does that run counter to the speed idea?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, this issue of trust is something we’ve been looking at for over a decade. One of the headlines in our research is it’s actually something we’re building and rebuilding and breaking all the time. And so instead of being this precious, almost farbege egg, it’s this thing that is constantly in motion and this thing that we can really impact when we’re deliberate about our choices and have some self-awareness around where it’s breaking down and how it’s breaking down.

CURT NICKISCH: You said break trust in there, which is intriguing, right? That you may have to break trust to build trust. Can you explain that a little?

ANNE MORRISS:  Yeah, well, I’ll clarify. It’s not that you have to break it in order to build it. It’s just that we all do it some of the time. Most of us are trusted most of the time. Most of your listeners I imagine are trusted most of the time, but all of us have a pattern where we break trust or where we don’t build as much as could be possible.

CURT NICKISCH: I want to talk about speed, this other essential ingredient that’s so intriguing, right? Because you think about solving hard problems as something that just takes a lot of time and thinking and coordination and planning and designing. Explain what you mean by it? And also, just  how we maybe approach problems wrong by taking them on too slowly?

ANNE MORRISS: Well, Curt, no one has ever said to us, “I wish I had taken longer and done less.” We hear the opposite all the time, by the way. So what we really set out to do was to create a playbook that anyone can use to take less time to do more of the things that are going to make your teams and organizations stronger.

And the way we set up the book is okay, it’s really a five step process. Speed is the last step. It’s the payoff for the hard work you’re going to do to figure out your problem, build or rebuild trust, expand the team in thoughtful and strategic ways, and then tell a real and compelling story about the change you’re leading.

Only then do you get to go fast, but that’s an essential part of the process, and we find that either people under emphasize it or speed has gotten a bad name in this world of moving fast and breaking things. And part of our mission for sure was to rehabilitate speed’s reputation because it is an essential part of the change leader’s equation. It can be the difference between good intentions and getting anything done at all.

CURT NICKISCH: You know, the fact that nobody ever tells you, “I wish we had done less and taken more time.” I think we all feel that, right? Sometimes we do something and then realize, “Oh, that wasn’t that hard and why did it take me so long to do it? And I wish I’d done this a long time ago.” Is it ever possible to solve a problem too quickly?

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely. And we see that all the time too. What we push people to do in those scenarios is really take a look at the underlying issue because in most cases, the solution is not to take your foot off the accelerator per se and slow down. The solution is to get into the underlying problem. So if it’s burnout or a strategic disconnect between what you’re building and the marketplace you’re serving, what we find is the anxiety that people attach to speed or the frustration people attach to speed is often misplaced.

CURT NICKISCH: What is a good timeline to think about solving a problem then? Because if we by default take too long or else jump ahead and we don’t fix it right, what’s a good target time to have in your mind for how long solving a problem should take?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we’re playful in the book and talking about the idea that many problems can be solved in a week. We set the book up five chapters. They’re titled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and we’re definitely having fun with that. And yet, if you count the hours in a week, there are a lot of them. Many of our problems, if you were to spend a focused 40 hours of effort on a problem, you’re going to get pretty far.

But our main message is, listen, of course it’s going to depend on the nature of the problem, and you’re going to take weeks and maybe even some cases months to get to the other side. What we don’t want you to do is take years, which tends to be our default timeline for solving hard problems.

CURT NICKISCH: So you say to start with identifying the problem that’s holding you back, seems kind of obvious. But where do companies go right and wrong with this first step of just identifying the problem that’s holding you back?

ANNE MORRISS: And our goal is that all of these are going to feel obvious in retrospect. The problem is we skip over a lot of these steps and this is why we wanted to underline them. So this one is really rooted in our observation and I think the pattern of our species that we tend to be overconfident in the quality of our thoughts, particularly when it comes to diagnosing problems.

And so we want to invite you to start in a very humble and curious place, which tends not to be our default mode when we’re showing up for work. We convince ourselves that we’re being paid for our judgment. That’s exactly what gets reinforced everywhere. And so we tend to counterintuitively, given what we just talked about, we tend to move too quickly through the diagnostic phase.

CURT NICKISCH: “I know what to do, that’s why you hired me.”

ANNE MORRISS: Exactly. “I know what to do. That’s why you hired me. I’ve seen this before. I have a plan. Follow me.” We get rewarded for the expression of confidence and clarity. And so what we’re inviting people to do here is actually pause and really lean into what are the root causes of the problem you’re seeing? What are some alternative explanations? Let’s get into dialogue with the people who are also impacted by the problem before we start running down the path of solving it.

CURT NICKISCH: So what do you recommend for this step, for getting to the root of the problem? What are questions you should ask? What’s the right thought process? What do you do on Monday of the week?

ANNE MORRISS: In our experience of doing this work, people tend to undervalue the power of conversation, particularly with other people in the organization. So we will often advocate putting together a team of problem solvers, make it a temporary team, really pull in people who have a particular perspective on the problem and create the space, make it as psychologically safe as you can for people to really, as Chris Argyris so beautifully articulated, discuss the undiscussable.

And so the conditions for that are going to look different in every organization depending on the problem, but if you can get a space where smart people who have direct experience of a problem are in a room and talking honestly with each other, you can make an extraordinary amount of progress, certainly in a day.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah, that gets back to the trust piece.

ANNE MORRISS: Definitely.

CURT NICKISCH: How do you like to start that meeting, or how do you like to talk about it? I’m just curious what somebody on that team might hear in that meeting, just to get the sense that it’s psychologically safe, you can discuss the undiscussable and you’re also focusing on the identification part. What’s key to communicate there?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Well, we sometimes encourage people to do a little bit of data gathering before those conversations. So the power of a quick anonymous survey around whatever problem you’re solving, but also be really thoughtful about the questions you’re going to ask in the moment. So a little bit of preparation can go a long way and a little bit of thoughtfulness about the power dynamic. So who’s going to walk in there with license to speak and who’s going to hold back? So being thoughtful about the agenda, about the questions you’re asking about the room, about the facilitation, and then courage is a very infectious emotion.

So if you can early on create the conditions for people to show up bravely in that conversation, then the chance that you’re going to get good information and that you’re going to walk out of that room with new insight in the problem that you didn’t have when you walked in is extraordinarily high.

CURT NICKISCH: Now, in those discussions, you may have people who have different perspectives on what the problem really is. They also bear different costs of addressing the problem or solving it. You talked about the power dynamic, but there’s also an unfairness dynamic of who’s going to actually have to do the work to take care of it, and I wonder how you create a culture in that meeting where it’s the most productive?

ANNE MORRISS: For sure, the burden of work is not going to be equitably distributed around the room. But I would say, Curt, the dynamic that we see most often is that people are deeply relieved that hard problems are being addressed. So it really can create, and more often than not in our experience, it does create this beautiful flywheel of action, creativity, optimism. Often when problems haven’t been addressed, there is a fair amount of anxiety in the organization, frustration, stagnation. And so credible movement towards action and progress is often the best antidote. So even if the plan isn’t super clear yet, if it’s credible, given who’s in the room and their decision rights and mandate, if there’s real momentum coming out of that to make progress, then that tends to be deeply energizing to people.

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if there’s an organization that you’ve worked with that you could talk about how this rolled out and how this took shape?

ANNE MORRISS: When we started working with Uber, that was wrestling with some very public issues of culture and trust with a range of stakeholders internally, the organization, also external, that work really started with a campaign of listening and really trying to understand where trust was breaking down from the perspective of these stakeholders?

So whether it was female employees or regulators or riders who had safety concerns getting into the car with a stranger. This work, it starts with an honest internal dialogue, but often the problem has threads that go external. And so bringing that same commitment to curiosity and humility and dialogue to anyone who’s impacted by the problem is the fastest way to surface what’s really going on.

CURT NICKISCH: There’s a step in this process that you lay out and that’s communicating powerfully as a leader. So we’ve heard about listening and trust building, but now you’re talking about powerful communication. How do you do this and why is it maybe this step in the process rather than the first thing you do or the last thing you do?

ANNE MORRISS: So in our process, again, it’s the days of the week. On Monday you figured out the problem. Tuesday you really got into the sandbox in figuring out what a good enough plan is for building trust. Wednesday, step three, you made it better. You created an even better plan, bringing in new perspectives. Thursday, this fourth step is the day we’re saying you got to go get buy-in. You got to bring other people along. And again, this is a step where we see people often underinvest in the power and payoff of really executing it well.

CURT NICKISCH: How does that go wrong?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, people don’t know the why. Human behavior and the change in human behavior really depends on a strong why. It’s not just a selfish, “What’s in it for me?” Although that’s helpful, but where are we going? I may be invested in a status quo and I need to understand, okay, if you’re going to ask me to change, if you’re going to invite me into this uncomfortable place of doing things differently, why am I here? Help me understand it and articulate the way forward and language that not only I can understand, but also that’s going to be motivating to me.

CURT NICKISCH: And who on my team was part of this process and all that kind of stuff?

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. I may have some really important questions that may be in the way of my buy-in and commitment to this plan. So certainly creating a space where those questions can be addressed is essential. But what we found is that there is an architecture of a great change story, and it starts with honoring the past, honoring the starting place. Sometimes we’re so excited about the change and animated about the change that what has happened before or what is even happening in the present tense is low on our list of priorities.

Or we want to label it bad, because that’s the way we’ve thought about the change, but really pausing and honoring what came before you and all the reasonable decisions that led up to it, I think can be really helpful to getting people emotionally where you want them to be willing to be guided by you. Going back to Uber, when Dara Khosrowshahi came in.

CURT NICKISCH: This is the new CEO.

ANNE MORRISS: The new CEO.

CURT NICKISCH: Replaced Travis Kalanick, the founder and first CEO, yeah.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and had his first all-hands meeting. One of his key messages, and this is a quote, was that he was going to retain the edge that had made Uber, “A force of nature.” And in that meeting, the crowd went wild because this is also a company that had been beaten up publicly for months and months and months, and it was a really powerful choice. And his predecessor, Travis was in the room, and he also honored Travis’ incredible work and investment in bringing the company to the place where it was.

And I would use words like grace to also describe those choices, but there’s also an incredible strategic value to naming the starting place for everybody in the room because in most cases, most people in that room played a role in getting to that starting place, and you’re acknowledging that.

CURT NICKISCH: You can call it grace. Somebody else might call it diplomatic or strategic. But yeah, I guess like it or not, it’s helpful to call out and honor the complexity of the way things have been done and also the change that’s happening.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, and the value. Sometimes honoring the past is also owning what didn’t work or what wasn’t working for stakeholders or segments of the employee team, and we see that around culture change. Sometimes you’ve got to acknowledge that it was not an equitable environment, but whatever the worker, everyone in that room is bringing that pass with them. So again, making it discussable and using it as the jumping off place is where we advise people to start.

Then you’ve earned the right to talk about the change mandate, which we suggest using clear and compelling language about the why. “This is what happened, this is where we are, this is the good and the bad of it, and here’s the case for change.”

And then the last part, which is to describe a rigorous and optimistic way forward. It’s a simple past, present, future arc, which will be familiar to human beings. We love stories as human beings. It’s among the most powerful currency we have to make sense of the world.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. Chronological is a pretty powerful order.

ANNE MORRISS: Right. But again, the change leaders we see really get it right, are investing an incredible amount of time into the storytelling part of their job. Ursula Burns, the Head of Xerox is famous for the months and years she spent on the road just telling the story of Xerox’s change, its pivot into services to everyone who would listen, and that was a huge part of her success.

CURT NICKISCH: So Friday or your fifth step, you end with empowering teams and removing roadblocks. That seems obvious, but it’s critical. Can you dig into that a little bit?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. Friday is the fun day. Friday’s the release of energy into the system. Again, you’ve now earned the right to go fast. You have a plan, you’re pretty confident it’s going to work. You’ve told the story of change the organization, and now you get to sprint. So this is about really executing with urgency, and it’s about a lot of the tactics of speed is where we focus in the book. So the tactics of empowerment, making tough strategic trade-offs so that your priorities are clear and clearly communicated, creating mechanisms to fast-track progress. At Etsy, CEO Josh Silverman, he labeled these projects ambulances. It’s an unfortunate metaphor, but it’s super memorable. These are the products that get to speed out in front of the other ones because the stakes are high and the clock is sticking.

CURT NICKISCH: You pull over and let it go by.

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah, exactly. And so we have to agree as an organization on how to do something like that. And so we see lots of great examples both in young organizations and big complex biotech companies with lots of regulatory guardrails have still found ways to do this gracefully.

And I think we end with this idea of conflict debt, which is a term we really love. Leanne Davey, who’s a team scholar and researcher, and anyone in a tech company will recognize the idea of tech debt, which is this weight the organization drags around until they resolve it. Conflict debt is a beautiful metaphor because it is this weight that we drag around and slows us down until we decide to clean it up and fix it. The organizations that are really getting speed right have figured out either formally or informally, how to create an environment where conflict and disagreements can be gracefully resolved.

CURT NICKISCH: Well, let’s talk about this speed more, right? Because I think this is one of those places that maybe people go wrong or take too long, and then you lose the awareness of the problem, you lose that urgency. And then that also just makes it less effective, right? It’s not just about getting the problem solved as quickly as possible. It’s also just speed in some ways helps solve the problem.

ANNE MORRISS: Oh, yeah. It really is the difference between imagining the change you want to lead and really being able to bring it to life. Speed is the thing that unlocks your ability to lead change. It needs a foundation, and that’s what Monday through Thursday is all about, steps one through four, but the finish line is executing with urgency, and it’s that urgency that releases the system’s energy, that communicates your priorities, that creates the conditions for your team to make progress.

CURT NICKISCH: Moving fast is something that entrepreneurs and tech companies certainly understand, but there’s also this awareness that with big companies, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to turn the aircraft carrier around, right? Is speed relative when you get at those levels, or do you think this is something that any company should be able to apply equally?

ANNE MORRISS: We think this applies to any company. The culture really lives at the level of team. So we believe you can make a tremendous amount of progress even within your circle of control as a team leader. I want to bring some humility to this and careful of words like universal, but we do think there’s some universal truths here around the value of speed, and then some of the byproducts like keeping fantastic people. Your best people want to solve problems, they want to execute, they want to make progress and speed, and the ability to do that is going to be a variable in their own equation of whether they stay or they go somewhere else where they can have an impact.

CURT NICKISCH: Right. They want to accomplish something before they go or before they retire or finish something out. And if you’re able to just bring more things on the horizon and have it not feel like it’s going to be another two years to do something meaningful.

ANNE MORRISS: People – I mean, they want to make stuff happen and they want to be around the energy and the vitality of making things happen, which again, is also a super infectious phenomenon. One of the most important jobs of a leader, we believe, is to set the metabolic pace of their teams and organizations. And so what we really dig into on Friday is, well, what does that look like to speed something up? What are the tactics of that?

CURT NICKISCH: I wonder if that universal truth, that a body in motion stays in motion applies to organizations, right? If an organization in motion stays in motion, there is something to that.

ANNE MORRISS: Absolutely.

CURT NICKISCH: Do you have a favorite client story to share, just where you saw speed just become a bit of a flywheel or just a positive reinforcement loop for more positive change at the organization?

ANNE MORRISS: Yeah. We work with a fair number of organizations that are on fire. We do a fair amount of firefighting, but we also less dramatically do a lot of fire prevention. So we’re brought into organizations that are working well and want to get better, looking out on the horizon. That work is super gratifying, and there is always a component of, well, how do we speed this up?

What I love about that work is there’s often already a high foundation of trust, and so it’s, well, how do we maintain that foundation but move this flywheel, as you said, even faster? And it’s really energizing because often there’s a lot of pent-up energy that… There’s a lot of loyalty to the organization, but often it’s also frustration and pent-up energy. And so when that gets released, when good people get the opportunity to sprint for the first time in a little while, it’s incredibly energizing, not just for us, but for the whole organization.

CURT NICKISCH: Anne, this is great. I think finding a way to solve problems better but also faster is going to be really helpful. So thanks for coming on the show to talk about it.

ANNE MORRISS:  Oh, Curt, it was such a pleasure. This is my favorite conversation. I’m delighted to have it anytime.

HANNAH BATES: That was entrepreneur, leadership coach, and author Anne Morriss – in conversation with Curt Nickisch on HBR IdeaCast.

We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about business strategy from Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review.

When you’re ready for more podcasts, articles, case studies, books, and videos with the world’s top business and management experts, you’ll find it all at HBR.org.

This episode was produced by Mary Dooe, Anne Saini, and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Special thanks to Rob Eckhardt, Maureen Hoch, Erica Truxler, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

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Final 2024 Bears Offseason Grades for GM Ryan Poles

Gene chamberlain | may 18, 2024.

Caleb Williams can be the game-changer the Bears organization has always needed, and GM Ryan Poles has set him up for success.

  • Chicago Bears

Bears GM Ryan Poles took significant action toward solving root problems with his team during the offseason and it's time to gauge where they're at as OTAs begin.

The Bears take the field next week for actual non-padded practices, meaning they can throw to receivers who are defended, but there is no hitting.

It is a key point in the offseason because coaches are now evaluating on-field practice by players assembled for NFL rosters. They'll say the competing starts in training camp and this is still for learning, but that's not reality. Every year it's obvious they're look at various players in different positions at organized team activities. The roster competition is important during OTAs . It's no longer theory or on paper, but out there on grass and on film for review

As such, a "soft" end point to the offseason has occurred and it's time to take stock of the work done by GM Ryan Poles in assembling this year's Bears roster. With the Bears getting on the field as a team, it's now in coach Matt Eberflus' hands.

Poles' draft and free agency have been previously studied in separate phases. So it's time to put everything together to encompass the entire bulk of Poles' offseason work and give the Bears personnel chief his final offseason grade.

The Chicago Bears Wide Receiver situation is tough for Fantasy Football this season… a lot of target share depends on chemistry and scheme… how differently will the Bears offense operate with Caleb Williams under center? Who will he have the timing and magic with, DJ Moore,… pic.twitter.com/JVmUlOTZEt — John Frascella (Football) (@NFLFrascella) May 18, 2024

Sure, he might add a player or two at the last second to plug a roster or lineup hole but those are acts of desperation this late in the offseason and not part of the grand scheme. 

Here's how Poles did at meeting his team's needs this offseason.

RANKING THE TOUGHEST FIVE GAMES ON 2024 BEARS SCHEDULE

NICK WRIGHT'S STUNNING SUPER PREDICTION FOR BEARS SEASON

Offense: A+

Poles had no fear pursuing a new quarterback and discarding the old one, and in this task it must be acknowledged the coaching staff had a significant role determining the value of former QB Justin Fields. If they had been entirely sold on what they saw from Fields, then Poles wouldn't have needed to use the first pick for Caleb Williams and could have traded down for another major score of draft picks. They saw the need, after Fields failed to produce wins in 13 out of 17 games that were there to be won in the fourth quarter the last two years. You can blame the talent around him all you want but Matthew Stafford had 15 of his 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 18 of his 22 game-winning drives while playing with some of the worst Detroit Lions teams in history and is renowned for being able to produce at game's end. When a QB has the chance then, they need to get it done. When a QB who can do it both with his arm and his legs is in that position, there is no excuse for not getting it done. Fields didn't, and Poles recognized this, then determined Williams was the type of QB who can stand up to adversity and get it done. 

Caleb Williams and Rome Odunze at today's Rookie Premiere. pic.twitter.com/8NGLrEjCwZ — Dave (@dave_bfr) May 18, 2024

Teams get only three years to make this judgment on QBs based on the current CBA, unless they want to gamble on great improvement coming in Year 4. This would buck what history says about QBs.

The key to this offseason on offense was not only getting the QB but surrounding him with talent. Keenan Allen in a trade, Gerald Everett and D'Andre Swift in free agency and Rome Odunze in the draft were all additions without faults. The Bears kept bringing in second-rate No. 2 tight ends and finally went after a veteran with a proven pass-catching ability in this offense. Robert Tonyan Jr. had done it in Green Bay in the old offense Luke Getsy brought to the Bears, but only had more than 18 catches twice in his career and it was when Aaron Rodgers was his quarterback. Allen is exactly what any young quarterback can use -- a security blanket of sorts. He always gets open or makes the catch, just like DJ Moore.

Caleb Williams vs. Jayden Daniels... No. 1 vs. No. 2 pick... Rookie Heisman winner vs. Rookie Heisman winner... A LOT to be excited about for the Week 8 Bears vs. Commanders 🙌🗣️ @heykayadams pic.twitter.com/0c9hmc9dsO — Up & Adams (@UpAndAdamsShow) May 16, 2024

If there is a valid criticism of what Poles did here it's the lack of world-class speed. A receiver who could run 4.3 or faster was not added. In fact, they lost a 4.38 40 time when Darnell Mooney left. But no one will complain about Odunze's 4.45-second speed when he is able to elevate so well and win contested catches 75% of the time like he did in college.

At the non-skill positions along the offensive line, it was more a case of making sure they had options if someone is injured. Poles did this. Ryan Bates gives them security at both guard and center should someone get injured. The drafting of Kiran Amegadjie gives them a swing tackle who might develop into something more. Both tremendously upgrade the pressure on the current starters because they are or could be capable of being starters, especially Bates. Amegadjie is more of a project until proven otherwise.

To make sure depth is even greater, they signed free agents Jake Curhan and Matt Pryor to add to the backup group with Larry Borom and Ja'Tyre Carter. There is experience, depth but the promise of something in the future with the line. What they really need is health from the starters, after injuries or blocking issues forced switches to the starting offensive line 19 times in the last two years.

D’andre SWIFT Been in the Lab 🥼🔬🧪🏥😷🔥🔥🔥😈 pic.twitter.com/fA7Jel5Hnu — CALEB WILLIAMS 👑🐻🇲🇽 (@SANBENITOBACK) May 10, 2024

The big defensive changes came last year but this doesn't mean the work is done and the change last year doesn't count on this year's improvement grade. For two years, Poles has failed to completely address their problems on the defensive line. He traded last year for Montez Sweat, but the need for the counter off the other edge has existed since Poles came to Chicago. It's still there because no one can be certain a fifth-round draft pick in Austin Booker is going to produce as a rookie, and although DeMarcus Walker did improve as he worked more in the scheme last year he still was a long way at season's end from being a consistent pass rush threat Making matters worse, the defensive tackle position became an even bigger question when Justin Jones left, because they're determining Gervon Dexter or Zacch Pickens will be ready to start and play better than Jones in their second seasons after both had obvious issues to address as rookies.

The other area of concern was safety, where it became more and more obvious as 2023 went on that Eddie Jackson was having problems in back. The fact he went through the draft and free agency to this point unsigned shows other teams saw it, as well. It also didn't help that Jackson missed five games the last two years and suffered foot issues both seasons. He missed 13 games total in three years. The solution they came up with was another veteran with about the same experience, but a better record for avoiding injuries. Is Kevin Byard an upgrade? It's possible, but at age 31 it's difficult to see how he'd be a significant improvement and if the Eagles didn't want to keep him around it says a great deal. Howie Roseman doesn't usually increase his discard pile unless it's warranted. CBS Sports, in fact, called the Byard signing one of the worst by any team in the offseason.

The #TitanUp rebuilt OL has a plus matchup in Week 1 against a young #DaBears DL. One guy to look out for? DE Montez Sweat. CHI posted 20 sacks after adding him in late Oct. Sweat will be an excellent litmus test for Tennessee’s right side, but don’t expect much success beyond… pic.twitter.com/zwSbbbpBHP — Tommy R. Callahan III (@yalltitanup) May 15, 2024

The improvement will come from within for the Bears defense, because last year at this time they were still teaching the system to one starting cornerback, two linebackers and one defensive lineman, and waiting for another defensive lineman to come at midseason. Playing together for a significant stretch can result in big improvement.

BEARS ROSTER BREAKDOWN: DESPERATE FOR DEFENSIVE LINE DEVELOPMENT

BEARS ROSTER BREAKDOWN: JAQUAN BRISKER DEVELOPMENT AN ISSUE

Special Teams: A-

Drafting a punter in Round 4 is a bold move but Poles deserves credit for acknowledging the importance of field position when he took Tory Taylor. Trenton Gill's hang time consistency fluctuated greatly throughout the season and several times he produced his worst punts when they most needed a good one. The theory behind the Tampa-2 defense is they make opponent drive the ball, don't give up big plays and at some point the offense makes a big mistake resulting in a turnover. A good punter makes the distance longer for those offenses to drive and increases the opportunity for the defense to come up with a takeaway in plus-territory.

New Bears Punter Tory Taylor pic.twitter.com/kwq3RXZ7ce — Dave (@dave_bfr) May 10, 2024

Adding linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga helped their coverage teams as he had 11 special tackles and two fumble recoveries the last three seasons.

Their annual punt return issues were looked at immediately by bringing back dependable Dante Pettis, and there is still the possibility they could use Odunze there after he showed a knack for this in a brief attempt to do it in college.

The only other way they could have improved special teams was to bring in a more serious challenger at long snapper, because Patrick Scales will be 36 this year. They already had to change one element of their place-kicking process by removing Gill as holder, so maybe stability at long snapper for another season is better.

Salary Cap: B+

Poles brought the Bears in at $12 million in effective cap space, according to Overthecap.com. That's enough for a move or two yet and to operate with during the season in case of injury. In addition, should something come up in terms of injuries and they need to make a trade or some other significant signing, there are numerous veteran contracts weighed largely on the cash side and they can be converted to bonus money through restructuring to obtain needed cap space. They don't like doing this but it can become a necessity.

The best thing Poles did in the offseason toward better cap help was reset the clock on the quarterback position. They'll have at least three years more of bargain rates at the game's most costly and important position but maybe they'll have a passer who can win games at the end now instead of losing them.

The worst thing Poles did for the cap was not draft a pass rusher in Round 3 or trade up into Round 2 to get one because chances they'll produce there are higher and the cost is still significantly lower than in Round 1. By not finding a solution, he made it possible they'll need to pay another costly veteran at either edge or 3-technique.

"This is the best plastic surgeon in the game giving the best face lift..." @heykayadams on what Ryan Poles has done with the #Bears roster since taking over as GM 💪👨‍⚕️ pic.twitter.com/LCzyekpb45 — Up & Adams (@UpAndAdamsShow) May 6, 2024

Final Overall Grade: A-

There is no way to give an A or A+ because the defensive line problem has been there since Poles came to Chicago and still hasn't been addressed.

The quarterback problem has been addressed with a rookie, which isn't always ideal. However, it's the consensus top rookie passer in the draft and one many scouts have called generational. Going after a veteran QB often does not work out, The quick-fix transplant solution at QB often fails and is far more costly, as the Jay Cutler trade showed this organization. Drafting the best overall passer is a real step forward toward their future.

When Poles surrounded Williams with more offensive talent than any new Bears quarterback has had to work with, it displayed a real commitment to fixing the main problem plaguing this team most for decades if not their entire 105 years of existence.

Nick Wright says the Bears could win the Super Bowl this year with Caleb 👀 pic.twitter.com/xb863Mi2gI — Caleb Williams Fan Club (@CalebFC18) May 16, 2024

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOn Maven

Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.

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