How many times have you heard a manager or person of influence proudly proclaim “ I always tell my team – don’t bring me problems without a solution”. Hmmm…
This statement makes me nervous – the intention is right – we are encouraging people to think through issues, and identify a step forward for themselves while discouraging the dependency mindset. We’re ensuring that people don’t come to us for “every little thing”. It’s a useful approach for those everyday problems people face that are obviously “cause and effect” type issues. These are usually the kind of problems where people can clearly see the cause and just need a little confidence, the will, and a little nudge to figure it out for themselves.
The old “don’t bring me problems without a solution” cry fails miserably when it’s applied to more complex culture, engagement and entrenched organisational dilemmas. You know the ones, I call them the boomerangs because they just keep coming back..over and over. These more complex problems often demand a deeper response and joint effort to address. Still unsure? complex issues that leaders need to take note of include:
· Worrying, recurring themes in your engagement survey,
· Recurring complaints about ‘personality clashes’ from different players within a team/department
· A revolving team/department door
· Inability to get the right solution across the line
· Several alarmingly similar escalations to HR from a broad spectrum of people – it might start to feel like an epidemic
· The team that just can’t seem to make it work, despite their best intentions, commitment and having done the strategic planning to pave the way.
I would hazard a guess that when people “come with solutions” to these sorts of problems, the solutions are almost always bound to fail. Of course, all these issues seem to have obvious answers and tactics we can put in place to address them, however, a solution created out of the thinking that created the original problem is destined for failure. While it might seem to smooth things over in the short term, these ‘solutions’ push the issue underground until it gains enough groundswell to boomerang right back. And there you have your boomerang issue, and every time it hurtles back to you it gets that bit bigger.
Think of these internal, kneejerk solutions like your body’s immune system. The immune system’s job is to keep the body in good health, to survive and to develop stability. This works well in the case of a virus, like the chicken pox. Once you’ve had the chicken pox, the body is armed with immunity and ready for the next attack. It’s learnt about the germ and knows exactly what to to to stop it damaging the body again. Most of the time immunity is vitally helpful, but ask anyone with an immune disorder (like hayfever) about how much havoc immunity can create when it kicks into overdrive when it’s not needed.
Companies and teams have immunity as well. They learn how to keep things together and moving in aligned ways towards an outcome. People develop patterns of thinking and behaviours that are accepted by the system of the team, and the ideas, behaviours or thinking that fall outside of that “norm” are rejected. This helps create strong cultures for performance – it also undermines the very changes that may be needed to help the team to evolve out of its current thinking in order to embrace a solution that actually works – without even understanding why.
In a team, an immune response is developed to protect a need, to avoid a concern, or to nourish an intention. Often we don’t even know what these natural cultural responses are – they’re undisclosed, unknown or unconsciously hidden behind a more obvious cause. To see past this immune response requires a slightly different approach to problems and solutions. We need to learn how to identify the “trigger” problem – the underlying cause that is having people resist change. The tricky bit is that if you ask people they generally won’t give you the right answer. The real problem usually lurks behind the assumed problem, and the challenge is unearthing it.
One simple thing you can do, to flip this whole dilemma on its head, is to change what you are asking for. Stop calling for a solution straight up. Instead try asking: “For what is this problem a solution?”.
This is a small, but powerful shift. This question assumes there is a pattern underlying the issue. It suggests there is a reason for the current response to exist. It says, if we can identify the underlying need, the ‘real’ concern (not the stated one) – we can develop the solutions that WILL work – and engage the immune system in the way it was intended, welcoming change that nourishes the team rather than blocking it.
For what is this problem a solution?
Try using this question this week – and let me know what it unlocks for you?
COHERENCE GROUP: CULTIVATING CULTURES, TRANSFORMING TEAMS
We’ve helped hundreds of organisations to build and inspire high-performing teams. We’d love to talk to you about your needs and give you with some ideas on how you can transform your culture and your business’ potential.
We’d love to talk to you about your needs and give you with some ideas on how you can transform your culture and your business’ potential.
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