Help your teams to look at problems differently
Often people somehow believe that their business roles are to make sure they do not have any problems at work — that is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of most jobs! The very essence of most employment activity is to address and overcome problems, either those of the business, our clients, or a combination thereof. To attempt to somehow remove the existence of problems is to significantly limit or even extinguish the rationale for what we do. A job role without problems (or at least challenges) is a role that will quickly change or evaporate.
Once we accept the need for problems, then we can start to look at them differently. As a manager, the quicker we can help our team members appreciate this, the more effective we can help them to be, and in particular, we can help them to see problem solving as a way to develop and enhance their capabilities.
At one of our clients we asked members of a small team to complete a ‘Problem Log’. This meant simply noting down any time they believed a problem existed, with a brief description of the issue, the date and the time. We asked them to do this over a period of two weeks and to leave space in the log to enter how each problem was resolved. At the end of two weeks we collected in the logs without entering into any discussion with the staff in regard to content. We did this to avoid anyone subsequently wishing to change what they had entered as a result of the passage of time. This is very important within the process of attempting to look at problems differently, because time has a huge impact on problems and problem resolution.
We then analysed the logs, amalgamated the data to avoid identifying specific individuals and then met, as a group, to review and discuss the findings.
Across the team of twelve there was an average of 1.4 problems per person, per day, logged. Of the 168 problems listed only 38 had an entry showing that the problem had been resolved (22%). This should have meant, in theory, that there were 130 unresolved problems that by now would surely be causing chaos within the team. Of course this turned out not to be the case with the vast majority of the 130 problems, some 114 (88%), having been superseded by other activities, a change of circumstances, or the problem simply turning out not to have needed to be resolved — or put another way, not a problem in the first place. This organic resolution of problems without any specific involvement by the individual who entered it in the log was confirmed by the lack of entries showing how a problem had been resolved. The individual often did not know how the problem was resolved; it just went away as far as they were concerned! In fact when we asked for volunteers to discuss specific entries often they struggled to even remember the nature or detail of the problem they had previously identified.
The insights from this initiative became a desktop mantra for the team;
· Problems are an integral part of our jobs
· Do not ignore problems, but don’t fixate on them either
· Critical problems require urgent attention — most problems are not critical
· Allow the time for problems to properly define themselves before acting
· Look at problems as a way to learn and develop skills