One of the most frequent questions I hear from business leaders is asking about my observations in working with individuals, teams, and companies; they want to know what few things have the most significant impact on improving organizations. Their expression reveals that my answers are not always what they expect.
In order of importance relevant to impact, first is clarity around your core values, including processes designed to lead, manage, hire, and fire through that lens. Next is to have a crystal clear mission, vision, and purpose that everyone in your organization uses to prioritize and execute. And third, have a problem-solving process used to discover, discuss, and dissolve issues as they arise.
“Disagreement isn’t disloyalty – until the decision is made. And then it’s Treason.” ~Napoleon
How do we define a business problem or issue? It is an obstacle, barrier, idea, opportunity, problem, issue, or unresolved friction point. Perhaps this is something you have discussed, yet it’s still being discussed among the team. This may be causing swirl, distraction, gossip, politicking, or the like because an actual problem resolution has yet to be addressed, resolved, and a solution committed to.
When working with a new client, I often observe that the executive/owner/leader believes that they and their teams are problem solvers. When we dig a little deeper, we find that they are usually question-answerers that look an awful lot like a help desk addressing a stream of symptoms yet never quite crack the code of solving complex business problems.
Therefore, let’s get to the heart of problem-solving techniques in business with the following paradigm that you can incorporate into any organization.
Tip #1: How to find business problems
Getting to the heart of identifying business problems by calling out what’s really at stake is the first step in permanently addressing any issue. This includes individual issues, goal setting & strategic planning, operations, finance, marketing, or overall people issues. Where should you begin?
Start by gathering interested parties in one space (or Zoom call), grab a marker, and one-by-one solicit everyone for problems. No matter how seemingly minor, in this phase, the goal is to relentlessly root out items that are creating friction, distraction, animosity, and angst within the company or even with customers.
The Grand Canyon was formed by a relatively small river that snaked through over the course of time. When left unresolved, small issues can have catastrophic consequences. Get it all out on the table for discussion.
Questions you can ask your team to fuel ideation:
- What is your current issue, problem, or obstacle?
- What actions have already been taken to address this issue, and what was the result?
- Why is this important? (How does it relate to an organizational priority?)
Bonus Tip: When sorting out the current issue, problem, or obstacle, remember that you are seeking the root cause here, not a symptom. The problem isn’t the runny nose but rather the plant on your desk that you are allergic to.
Tip #2: Identify multiple possible solutions
Now that you have a heroic list of all problems your company needs to address and understand the root cause of what problem your company is trying to solve, it’s time to take a vote and prioritize this list. You’ll be setting a timer; therefore, you want to knock out the most important items first.
Because this routine will be part of your weekly leadership meeting going forward, stick to the discipline of allotting 30-60 minutes to tackle the business problem and their requisite solutions – but do not try to do marathon sessions. Quality over quantity is the goal here.
Facilitate an open airing of questions, concerns, and comments, and gather varying perspectives. Again, use a whiteboard to capture all that your team has to contribute. One method to surface solutions among a team/group is to allow ONE clarifying question, calling out those that attempt to deliver advice disguised as a question.
Once questions are resolved, use the same round-robin method to ensure that ALL members are offering a solution that addresses the root cause of the problem at hand.
Tip #3: Making a decision
At this moment, you may think that we address corporate problem solving much quicker in my business. To which I challenge if that “problem” is solved permanently with a firm commitment to action. Stay with a defined process, and you will start to see your team’s trust levels increase, innovation explode, and results improve as an outcome of getting obstacles out of your way.
At this stage, you are not looking for consensus or agreement – you are looking for the best solution that addresses the issue you’re tackling at its source. After the last step, you now have ideas on the board that get to the heart of the matter. It’s time for the owner of the problem (i.e., department head, managing director, operations chief, etc.) to declare which is the best fit. But we are not done yet. Until we hear a full commitment to an action that is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timebound), we are not done. Once that occurs, we move to the next item until the time is up.
Create a problem-solving advantage
Stephen Covey used to describe high-functioning teams as “moving at the speed of trust,” which was also the title of one of his books. This means that whenever the inevitable conflict arises, teams that trust one another are able to move through that more quickly because they don’t question the integrity, motivation, or safety within the team.
Many teams do not have a process for tackling business problem solving out of an abundance of caution that doing so is akin to conflict. Complex business problem solving can become a competitive advantage when done as part of a disciplined operational approach. Not sure where to start? Begin with a quick, 15-minute, no-obligation phone call with me.