“All my team wants to do is complain. I know things aren’t perfect, but we still have to get the work done. They shoot down every idea I have,” Chet shook his head.
“Have you ever been crabbing?” I asked. “Crabbing, you know, where you trap crabs, pull them out of the water and throw them into a basket?”
Chet looked at me a bit sideways. “What’s that got to do with my team?”
“Here’s the thing, Chet. If you only have one crab in the basket, you have to really pay attention, because the crab will crawl out of that basket lickety-split. The trick is to catch more crabs quickly. With a bunch of crabs, when one starts to crawl out, the other crabs attach to the legs and pull him back into the basket. You would think they would all try to crawl out, but that’s not what happens. Sometimes, teams are the same way.
“Before you describe a possible solution, go around the table and have each team member describe the major benefits if we are successful at solving the problem. If you can get them to focus on the benefits, they are less likely to focus on the crab (you) trying to crawl out of the basket.”
From the Ask Tom mailbag –
We are working on team problem solving. We think it’s a good idea, but we are not getting the results that we thought we would get. In fact, sometimes the team comes up with solutions that either don’t work, don’t solve the problem or create more havoc than the original problem. The team is eager and always has suggestions, so it’s not a matter of enthusiasm.
The problem we name is the problem we solve. So, if the group names the wrong problem (symptom), the underlying cause may never be discovered. I work with groups all the time that are trigger happy to solve the problem without understanding or probing. They believe that what they don’t know is probably irrelevant. They believe the way they understand the problem is accurate. They believe that other people’s perceptions about the problem are wrong. They believe the problem presented is actually the problem, when often it’s not.
Slow this group down, force them through the following steps, when confronted with the problem.
- Have one, two or three people restate the problem as they heard it.
- Open up the discussion with this rule, NO recommendations, NO observations, NO stories, ONLY clarifying questions. No exceptions. (This step in the discussion is always the most important. This is where the real work is done.)
- Only after all clarifying questions are exhausted (you can tell, because clarifying the problem is exhausting), then open the discussion for recommendations, observations and shared stories.
- Action (or commitment) step. Based on the discussion, what is the most potent action that can be taken to resolve the underlying cause of the problem (issue or opportunity).
Most groups move too fast toward recommendations. Slow them down.