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3 Strategies for “Problem" Solving Constructively & Efficiently

Updated: Jul 8, 2021

How familiar is this scenario to you?

It’s 4:30 PM on a Friday when you get a call from Sam, your team lead saying, “Pat, we need you to jump on this Zoom in 5 minutes. I just got an email from Nancy who is upset about how our new program is impacting them and they want us to respond, RIGHT AWAY.”

As your mind churns ahead through what issues Nancy could possibly have with this well planned and expertly executed program that you and your team spent six months on, you grab a notepad and click on the Zoom link sent mumbling, ‘just another day in paradise’. Already in the Zoom and on camera, your team members look a bit twisted, some with furrowed brows, others sitting defensively with arms crossed, probably also wondering how this late meeting will derail their evening bike rides or delay their happy hour beer.

As Sam reads Nancy's email, your mind immediately starts scrolling through solutions while also feeling somewhat defensive. As Sam wraps up, you’re confident you have an idea that you believe will save the day and make Nancy happy and get you off camera for the weekend. But before opening your mouth, you might be dismissing an important question to ask yourself: I believe this solution addresses what I'm hearing the problem is, but is this the same problem everyone else is hearing?

When we are asked to process an issue presented to us as a problem, it is natural to instinctively jump into problem-solving mode. We scan through our own database of experiences that may look and feel similar to pull out something that would fit this problem. If we have any personal attachment to issue at hand, we may also show up defensively which adds a whole other layer of emotion to the process for delivering a solution which may or may not be constructive. So, depending on individual past experiences and level of personal emotional attachment to the ‘problem’ at hand, all those involved could come to the table with a different take on what the issue is and how to solve it.

Take these three steps to determine, define and constructively tackle issues presented as 'problems' that may require collaborative input.

1) Determine if the issue is really a problem requiring broader input. Since our filters vary in regards to what could be seen as a problem, if you are presented with an issue ask yourself, 'what is the impact of this issue' and, 'who really needs to be involved to resolve it'. Some issues aren't really problems and you might determine you can resolve them yourself. If you think the issue is more complex requiring broader input, think carefully about who to invite to resolve it.

2) If requiring broader input, clearly define what the problem is. Per the example above, after the issue has been presented, have all participants write down what they believe the problem statement is. Have each person pass their response to the person on their right (or left) and have each person read what their colleague wrote aloud. Ask one person to facilitate by writing these on a whiteboard or flip chart. Responses will vary but only until the group collectively decides what the problem really is, can it be addressed effectively. Write the final and agreed upon ‘problem’ that needs to be resolved on the whiteboard or flip chart, visible for the rest of the meeting.

3) Tackle the problem by offering only constructive comments. Many problem-solving meetings last much longer than they need to because it is natural to want to be heard. But your meeting invitation isn’t also an invitation to air every thought you have. As good as it might feel to get these thoughts off your chest or vent to contribute, resolutions are often delayed by circular conversations and opinions that don't address the real problem (see #2). Late on a Friday afternoon, this could be particularly mind-numbing. So make a rule that only constructive comments are allowed which answer the questions, 1) Does this comment move the conversation forward? and, 2) How does this comment address the problem we have identified?

We spend the better part of each day making decisions. When we have defined a more complex decision making opportunity ('problem') that requires broader input, creating some structure around the process will get you there faster and home sooner.

Andrea Raggambi, ACC

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