Four Steps for Solving Your Problem
By Sue Dyer
How many times have you sat through
meetings only to walk away wondering if your team could resolve any
of the problems it faced? The ability of a team to identify and
resolve problems is a critical skill. Many teams never learn how to
do this. Those who do always outshine their counterparts.
Of course the best problem solving
technique is to prevent the problem from occurring in the first
place. But we all know that stuff happens! Here are four steps to
help you address the root cause of your problem so that you resolve
the underlying issue. Over time, if your team follows these four
steps, they will begin to build “problem solving muscles” and become
more adept at tackling problems, and trust will grow.
Step 1. Refuse to Get Upset:
You need to be a part of the solution, but if you become emotionally
charged you will be focused on your emotions and not on the issue at
hand. Once you are upset you become part of the problem.
It gets harder the longer you
wait: While a cooling off period can be beneficial when tempers
flare, putting off problems only makes the solution more
difficult. Over time people become more invested in the problem
and in winning. This makes it much more difficult to resolve the
Listen between the lines:
Arguments are not usually about what people say they are about –
most have to do with the egos involved. By listening with
empathy, between the lines, you will hear that people are
telling you what they truly need.
Lead, don’t manipulate: You
don’t have to have authentic power to lead a problem solving
effort. You just need a sincere desire to find a solution that
gives everyone what they need. Manipulation tries to lever power
over others. Leadership seeks to give hope that a true dialogue
Step 2. Resist Playing the Blame
Game: When confronted with a problem it is only natural to want
to find out “who is to blame.” The problem with the “blame game” is
that communication stops as everyone becomes protective. In the mean
time, no one is working on solving the problem! So keep focused on a
You can’t create good solutions
in a vacuum: The more you learn about the needs and constraints
of the various people on your team, the better you will be able
to create good, and possibly great, solutions. So ask.
Work to get off to a good start:
How a team starts a project is a pretty good indicator of how
the project will end. So it is well worth the effort to make
sure that yours starts out well. Open up communication and start
teamwork from the beginning.
Silence your inner judge: When
someone is talking to you and you hear that little voice in your
head saying “yes but that’s not right,” or “yes but you don’t
really understand,” you have just stopped listening to that
person. Instead, you’re creating your rebuttal so you can prove
them wrong and yourself right. That’s how fast communication can
break down – in an instant – in your own head.
Step 3. Agree on The Problem:
It is easy to assume that you understand the problem, but is this
the problem or just a symptom of the real problem? How can you tell?
Others on your team may see the problem very differently than you do
and have information that you don’t have. It is important to create
an atmosphere that allows everyone on your team to openly discuss
the issue so you can find and agree on the core problem. Because if
you don’t agree on the problem…you are never going to agree on the
Make conflict constructive not
destructive: Conflict need not be destructive, destroying
relationships and communication. Conflict can be constructive,
spurring discussion and pointing out areas in need of work,
helping the team to improve. It’s all a matter of attitude and
Focus on the present – don’t
rehash the past: When you analyze what happened and why it
happened and who was responsible, you are trying to deal with
your problems by focusing on the past. You have no power when
you deal with issues in the past – you can’t change the past. So
bring your problems into the present; you’ll be surprised how
quickly you can resolve them.
Everyone owns the problem:
Everyone owns the problems that pop up equally. It’s not their
problem and it’s not my problem, it’s our problem. It’s
everyone’s job to understand the problem and cooperate to work
out a way to quickly solve it. Pointing fingers only stops
conversations very rapidly.
Step 4. Co-Create Solutions:
People don’t argue with what they help to create and there truly is
a collective wisdom in a team. Tap into that wisdom by offering your
team a chance to help create the solution(s) to the core problem
that you’ve identified.
Allow the people closest to the
problem to resolve the issue: Quality decisions come from those
closest to the issue. Quality goes down as issues move away from
the team, and the issues tend to grow in cost and time.
Build on common ground: When
creating objectives, focus on those things that you all have in
common. This will get everyone moving in the same direction –
working together instead of against each other. Keep focused on
those things you have in common, not on your differences.
Do the impossible: Keep yourself
open to possibilities. Try to look at old things in new ways,
through new lenses. That’s what seeing problems through the eyes
of the others involved can help you do. It really is possible to
create a solution that gives everyone what they need, and to
walk away with a new level of respect and understanding.
Now you are ready to implement the
solution(s). You can use the same process for identifying potential
problems and preventing them from becoming actual problems!
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