July 25, 2016

Team Essentials Part 4 – Problem Solving


So far, our series on team essentials has highlighted 3 skills: celebration, encouragement, and communication. This week’s topic is problem solving.

Much like communication, problem solving is a daily reality. At its core, problem solving is about ideation and decision making. It involves analyzing data, generating solutions, and choosing between multiple options.  Individual ability and experience play a role in successfully solving problems; however, a team’s level of trust, ability to communicate, and an effective problem solving process are equally important. The best teams develop these skills and build a sense of community, allowing the team to leverage their collective wisdom and face problems head-on.

There will always be problems to solve and teams that do so effectively have a distinct advantage. Here are 6 things to remember when solving problems as a team:

  1. Develop the team first. Trying to solve problems with an unhealthy team won’t yield much fruit. Oftentimes, team development is neglected because life seems too busy. Building relationships is viewed as a soft skill that takes a backseat to the “real” work of getting things done. This is a critical mistake. Unhealthy conflict, positioning for power, lack of communication, misunderstanding, and a legion of other pitfalls can thwart the efforts of even the most talented of individual contributors. Developing the team will not only lead to better solutions, it will make membership on the team much more fulfilling.
  2. Identify the real problem. You can’t solve a problem that is not clearly defined. Resist the temptation to dive in quickly and treat symptoms. Rather, when a problem or challenge presents itself, take time on the front end to ask clarifying questions and find the root cause. This simple practice can save the team precious time and eliminate the frustration that inevitably comes with solving the wrong problem.
  3. Define success. What does a “win” look like? How will you know the problem has been solved? Do everything you can to define a “win” at the outset so the team has a clear goal to accomplish. For example, if labor cost is too high and the team wants to improve in this area, it is critical to identify a target cost that indicates success. Otherwise, there is no finish line in sight and no clear victory to celebrate.
  4. Strategy vs. execution. When analyzing a problem, it is critical to determine whether negative outcomes are the result of a bad strategy, poor execution, or both. Sometimes, negative outcomes are the result of executing a good strategy poorly. Other times, the strategy is bad and better execution won’t help. Either way, you have to know which is occurring to solve the problem at hand. In my experience, teams are too quick to change strategies when poor execution is the real culprit. Make answering this question a routine step in your process and your team will become more efficient at solving problems.
  5. Be creative. The first solution that comes to mind is not always the best. In fact, the best solution may be something totally different from the typical approach. This is why teams are so powerful. As long as team members remain open, individuals can challenge one another’s perspectives and build on each other’s ideas. When facing a problem, push your team to come up with multiple solutions before choosing one. Ideate wide and venture into untried territory. Then narrow your focus until you’ve reached a final solution.
  6. Support the best idea, even if it’s not yours. The best solution is the best solution, no matter its source. The best teams know this and create an environment that is team-focused and outcome-driven. Don’t let the desire for personal credit lead to defending your idea when a better one is on the table.

Think about a problem your team is facing right now. Which of these tips might help you solve it more effectively?

by Rusty Chadwick

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