In so many organizations, we see discussions around problem solving go wrong. To be an effective problem solving organization, there has to be a framework of questions that will lead towards full alignment on the issue. Once we have that alignment, then we can have a serious conversation around legitimate solutions.
In a world where everyone has unlimited supplies of information and opinion, how do we build enough consensus to get a group of people moving forward to successfully solve a problem? Let’s dig into that a bit.
There is a well-worn line about problem solving, that “the first step in solving any problem is recognizing that the problem exists.”
We agree. We cannot solve a problem that we are not aware of. Recognition of the existence of the problem is certainly step one. We all can now see that there is a problem… sales are down… or customer retention is down… or our best employees are leaving in droves. OK. We see that we have a problem.
But what next? We have recognition. But then what?
Step two (and we see this minimized or outright ignored all the time) is to define the cause of the problem. We all can see that sales are down. But what is the underlying cause of those falling sales numbers? We can’t solve a problem that we cannot precisely define.
Step three, if we can even get that far, takes the conversation even further. We know sales are down. We know that the cause of the sales problem is strong international competition and currency challenges. But then what? Step three of successful problem solving requires that we all see the problem as solvable. Just because we all acknowledge the existence of the problem, and agree on the cause, we might not agree whether the problem is even solvable. It might be cyclical and inevitable. Can we solve it?
Step four, do we prioritize it in the same way? Maybe I think customer sales down 5% is not a huge deal. You think it is the end of the world. If we disagree on the importance and prioritization, then reaching good consensus is unlikely.
And, then, at this point, we can finally start to discuss solving the problem.
So, the next time your group has a big problem staring it in the face, try taking these four steps to avoid the frustrations that come with putting the cart before the horse.
Do we have a problem?
Do we understand the cause of the problem?
Do we see the problem as solvable?
Do we prioritize the problem in the same way?
NOW… if we have agreement on those questions, then we can start discussing the solution… what to DO about it.
Do yourself a favor… save yourself some time and anxiety… make sure your team or organization has an effective structure to discuss problem solving. You will be much happier and your organization will be far more efficient and effective.
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