Lead by example to build an unstoppable team and make progress with enthusiasm and ease.
I often work with leaders that are frustrated by working with peers and team members that toss around problems for weeks or even months without a solution. Problems, questions, and requests become open wounds that hold the team or organization back from making progress. They turn into focus points that drain energy from other important projects and real forward progress. People often build workarounds that are Band-aid solutions to larger problems that really need to be solved.
What they are complaining about is lack of a solution-centric mindset. Someone with a solution-centric mindset approaches work with a focus on honing in on solutions and forward progress. They don’t get stuck in setbacks or drama. Instead, they learn from setbacks and move forward. They don’t ignore or push problems aside. Instead, they voice problems with a proposed solution and align the team around a plan of resolution and execution. They make sure they (or someone on the team) close the loop in implementing the solution.
As with any aspect of team culture, the example must be set by the leader. Working with a solution-centric mindset is the responsibility of every leader. Leaders often focus on customer-centricity but don’t realize that solution-centricity should really be the aim. If a solution-centric mindset is not applied to all aspects of the work — work with peers, team members, and partners as well — progress is not possible. Leaders that don’t lead by example in acting with a solution-centric mindset in all aspects of their work often fail to build a truly solution-centric team.
A solution-centric mindset is at the heart of making progress as a team. When even one person on the team doesn’t approach the work with a solution-centric mindset, they quickly become a burden to the rest of the team. A solution-centric mindset is not necessarily inherent; it usually comes from past experience and it can be taught and adopted. It’s most readily adopted when the leader of the team leads by example in acting solution-centric. If you find yourself feeling that your team or certain members of your team are not solution-centric, it may be your approach to certain situations that need to change. Let’s look at a few common cases where leaders often fail to use a solution-centric mindset and how to lead by example to build a solution-centric team.
When you see a problem, envision the solution.
Many people are great at spotting and voicing problems but they don’t take the time or thought to devise a solution. How many times have you seen the case where a problem happens, someone starts telling everyone about the problem, and 10 minutes later the whole team has dropped their work to come and see what the problem is and talk about it? As a leader, this situation lit my hair on fire. Well, not literally, but the cycle of looking at the problem and not coming to any kind of constructive solution felt like valuable time was wasted. Yes, it’s easier to talk about pain or problems than it is to envision and execute a solution. As humans, we love to connect and bond over drama and problems that arise. However, this is not solution-centric. This wastes time and diverts focus from real progress. It also often builds negativity and panic amongst the team. As the leader, when you see a problem, make sure to envision what the better case is, or solution is, before rallying the team. Rally the team around the problem and the initial envisioned solution, not just the problem.
Voice the problem and the envisioned solution to the right people.
Especially in large organizations, when someone sees a problem they often start telling everyone in sight or they e-mail everyone they know. It’s important to keep problems to the scope of people that need to know. Instead of sending an e-mail to 10 people, send it to 3 that really need to know. Only voice the problem to the people who can really help to implement the solution and people that are immediately affected. If you tell people that are not affiliated with the issue, this is just a distraction for them. When you spot a problem, instead of voicing the problem to everyone, voice the problem to only the right people and, ideally, voice it with a vision so that the group begins resolution with direction instead of chaos.
Engage subject matter experts when needed.
A solution-centric leader must be visionary; they should be able to envision the solution to problems that arise and articulate the problem, solution, and plan of action to the team. However, especially when working in a medium or large organization, we often need to leverage the expertise and support of others to devise holistic solutions that serve. If you can’t quite envision a solution but you know there is a problem, enlist the help of subject matter experts whether that is your leader, peers, other others in the organization. This is where organization context and titles can actually come in handy so that you know the right person to go to for help. Ask until you find the person to assist you if you need help in devising a solution or implementing a solution.
Communicate with a positive tone.
A team is only motivated to work toward a solution if the leader is positive and constructive. People will be more inclined to help you develop and implement a solution if you are positive. No one wants to work with a dictator delegator or someone that gives direction with a threatening or harsh tone. Delivering news and direction with a centered, positive tone allows people to receive your information and focus on the direction instead of getting drained by negative or fearful emotion. Also, acknowledge people by saying “please” and “thank you” for their support and guidance. Practice balancing patience and persistence along the way to arrive at a collective solution that supports individual contributions.
Gain alignment from key stakeholders and the team before taking action.
When on a team or when working within a complex organization, we need to unite and align the team around the vision and approach. Though you should voice a problem along with an envisioned solution, another common problem leaders often have is that they act without alignment from the team. Before acting on a solution, make sure you have alignment from your leader, peers, and/or your team if you need it. More issues can actually happen if key stakeholders are not aware that you’re fixing a problem or taking action. There may be contingencies others need to know about. Others may have ideas for how to better go about solving the problem or more efficiently taking action. Make sure the right people are aware of the problem and your solution before taking action.
Make sure the vision is clear. Give single accountability.
When people voice a problem and walk away without aligning around the solutions and assigning accountability, nothing is solved. “Accountability” isn’t a negative thing; it doesn’t mean that person caused the problem. Accountability means that a person is responsible for solving the problem. Whether they work with the leader to envision the solution or not, they are responsible for making sure the solution is executed and the loop is closed. Problems often sit for too long when the leader doesn’t clearly define accountability. This is why the leader must take ultimate accountability or clearly assign accountability.
Close the Loop!
It is always the leader’s responsibility to also follow-up with the person accountable to close the loop. In a dynamic work environment, priorities shift and projects get abandoned. The leader is ultimately responsible for holding accountability. Great team members should also be able to juggle multiple priorities, but if the leader does not lead by example in managing multiple priorities and closing the loops on his or her own projects, the team will also operate in a chaotic, unorganized manner. Lead by example by having a prioritization system of your own and closing the loops on your own responsibilities and projects.
From small hiccups to large fallbacks, every team needs a solution-centric leader to lead by example and build a solution-centric team. This mindset shift to solution-centricity has profound impacts on progress. A solution-centric team is almost unstoppable. A solution-centric mindset works for solving problems efficiently but it also works for closing the loop on open requests and questions, too, which is also essential to moving forward efficiently. This approach can be used with customers, team members, peers, and partners. I hope this guide helps you to think about some ways to make your team more solution-centric and make efficient, aligned progress toward your vision.