Tag Archives: team problem solving

Whose Idea Is It, Anyway?

“But, I am the manager. Everyone is counting on me,” Bryce pushed back.

“Then, why are you in here, by yourself?” I asked.

“I have a problem to solve. It’s a serious problem. Everyone is counting on me to solve the problem. It is my responsibility.”

“Is it your responsibility to solve the problem with the best solution you can come up with, or the best solution to the problem? Have you thought about stepping outside yourself, asking for help, other perspectives? Yes, you are accountable for the best solution, but, no one said it had to be your idea.”

Benefit of NOT Solving the Problem By Yourself

As a manager, you are often faced with a problem to solve. And, you think, if I could just get my team involved, there are some benefits. Team problem solving –

  • Communicates the accountability to the team
  • Brings in a diversity of fresh ideas
  • Brings in ideas that can be combined with other ideas
  • Challenges the team to contribute their best thinking
  • Brings in other perspectives on what the real problem is
  • Surfaces additional “what if” scenarios
  • Speeds execution of the solution

So, why don’t we get our team involved more often?

  • We don’t have time
  • Our team members are already overworked
  • Our team members are too busy to attend a problem solving meeting
  • It’s not their problem

Our objections are just head-trash. Every time the manager solves a problem for the team, it cripples the team from engaging in problem-solving behavior.

The team still needs a guide. And when you float the problem, they will resist, at first they will panic. Your job, as a manager, is to simply outlast the panic. If you want to build a team, give them a real problem to solve. -Tom

Mother of Invention

The point is to determine the best alternative. Not the best alternative that you can imagine, but the best alternative that is possible. Step one requires temporarily suspending judgement, to consider alternatives outside of your own experience or imagination. Without suspending judgement, outside ideas get filtered.

But, why waste time on outside ideas that are likely nonsense?

See, you already filtered those outside ideas as nonsense.

Suspending judgement is difficult, because it requires you might have to admit you were wrong in your assumptions.

Suspending judgement, temporarily requires that you consider ridiculous alternatives. And if you consider ridiculous alternatives, it frees your mind to generate more ridiculous alternatives in a chain of ideas containing many elements, one of which may actually save the day. Idea fluency.

You may never get to the idea that saves the day without the meanderings of ridiculous alternatives. When we temporarily suspend judgement, it gives us permission to consider things run backward, the front end of one idea connected to the back end of another idea, the ridiculous context of one idea as the crucible for the right idea.

Productive by Design

The response in the room was silence. Everyone counted, one, two, three, waiting for Jeanine to nod her head indicating that the discussion was over. Today would be different.

The team knew that the less they contributed, the less they could be held accountable. Jeanine would describe an issue or a problem, and then ask for ideas. No one ever had any ideas. No ideas meant no accountability. The team was not doing this on purpose. Most counterproductive thinking is unconscious.

Productive thinking requires conscious thought. It most often happens by design, rarely happens by chance. Jeanine’s statement of the issue played right into the hands of chance. “The customer is complaining that their product is always late, even though they know it was manufactured by the deadline. Does anyone have any ideas?”

Chance of an idea? Fat chance.

We changed Jeanine’s question to make it more specific. “In what ways can we move the customer’s product from our manufacturing floor to the staging area and onto the truck in less time?” Suddenly, there were seven ideas.

Productive thinking happens by design. Make your question more specific. You will get more ideas.

Would You Say It, If It Wasn’t True?

“You described the situation with your team like a rubber band. Your team is stretched, trying to deal with the problem,” I said, “what do you think the problem is?”

“The problem is that we are behind schedule,” Deana stated flatly.

“What if I told you the problem with the team has nothing to do with the schedule?” I proposed.

“What do you mean? That’s the problem, the ops manager is manipulating the schedule so it looks like we are on-time when we are behind.”

“So, you are on the side of the project manager?”

“Yes. I mean, outside the meeting, without the ops manager, everyone on the team talked about it, and the truth is, the ops manager is manipulating the schedule,” Deana insisted.

“The truth?”

“Well, yeah, I wanted to check with other team members, get my facts straight and that’s what everybody thinks. When the project manager brought it up in the meeting, that is exactly the way he said it. He told the ops manager straight to his face, ‘Everyone in here thinks you manipulated the schedule.’ I don’t think he would say that unless it was the truth.”

“There’s that truth word again,” I smiled.

This is the story of a team in the classic struggle of BAMs. BAMs is the mental state of any group that drives its behavior. BAMs is in one of two states, work or non-work.

  • Work Mode vs. Non-Work Mode
  • Rational vs. Irrational
  • Scientific vs. Unscientific
  • Cooperative vs. Collusive
  • Controlled vs. Uncontrolled
  • Conscious vs. Unconscious

Deana’s team has a problem. In a classic move of non-work, the team mis-identifies the problem. The team does not have to deal with the real problem if it can create the appearance of working a different problem. The problem you solve is the problem you name. The team named the wrong problem.

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. This is not the story of a team (your team). This is the story of a nation. This is the story of a nation in BAMs. Has the nation named the wrong problem?

What’s Not to Talk About

“So, did your team deal with the issue, or did they avoid it and move on?” I repeated.

“Well, thank goodness my manager was there. When the project manager accused the ops manager of manipulating the schedule, no one knew what to say,” Deana replied.

“So, everyone checked out and looked to the senior-most manager in the room. Was the ops manager manipulating the schedule?” I asked.

“You know, no one is really sure. I was talking with one of my team members after the meeting and he thinks it was a big cover-up.”

“So, the situation was never resolved. We don’t know why we were behind schedule. We don’t if the schedule was accurate. We don’t know how to prevent this in the future.”

“What we do know,” Deana thought out loud, “if we are ever behind schedule and try to cover it up, we won’t talk about it in the meeting.”

Working Leadership comes to Austin TX. Ask me and I will send you a one page pdf about the program. Or you can follow this link to find out more.
Here are the dates –

  • Session One – Aug 25, 2017, 1-4:30p
  • Session Two – Sep 1, 2017, 1-4:30p
  • Session Three – Sep 8, 2017, 1-4:30p
  • Session Four – Sep 18, 2017, 1-4:30p
  • Session Five – Sep 22, 2017, 1-4:30p
  • Session Six – Sep 28, 2017, 9a-12p

To register, just ask Tom.

How to Cripple a Team

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
Faced with a problem to solve, my team never really comes up with anything. Sometimes it seems they just want me to tell them what to do so they don’t have to think. We are really busy, so most times, I give in, tell them the answer and get them back to work. But, at the end of the day, I am exhausted.

Response:
Of course they want you to tell them what to do. If you tell them what to do, then they are not responsible for the solution. Every time you solve a problem that the team should solve, you cripple the team from solving the next problem.

It’s a tough assignment for you to turn down. You get all the glory, you get to strut, you get to be the head Fred, you get to be the go-to guy when there is a problem to solve. It feels good AND it destroys your team.

Most of all, your team likes it that way. They are relieved of the difficult decisions.

This is not just a method called team problem solving, this is a mind-set on the part of the manager. If you want to build a team, give them a problem to solve. As the manager, you may have to help define the problem, facilitate alternate solutions and ask questions related to the best solution, but let the silence do the heavy lifting.

I can always tell a team is stuck when they fail to solve the same problem they had a year ago. I can always tell a team is growing when they trade in the problems from a year ago (now solved) for a new set of problems for tomorrow. -Tom

Not the Manager’s Problem to Solve

“Timing?” Miriam repeated. “I don’t wait for the team to struggle. I don’t wait for the panic when the problem emerges?”

“As soon as you put the problem on the table, the panic will ensue. Let’s say you have three head-strong team members, individually, they are all very competent in their roles. But, whenever they have to work together, the three butt heads, with their own opinions about the direction of the project. In this state, emotions run high, cooperation and support disappears, there is passive agreement in public and aggressive backstabbing in private. As the manager, on this project, you need mutual support and cooperation. What do you do?”

“When I see the misbehavior, I would sit them down, individually, and communicate my expectations. I would explain that I would monitor their behavior and that I would not tolerate disagreement and shouting.” Miriam stopped. “I think you are going to suggest something different.”

“This is not your problem to solve. Understand, you are accountable for the output of this team, but only the team can solve this problem. Your role is to name the problem, put it on the table, in front of everyone, and outlast the panic.” -Tom