Bring Me Problems, Not Your Solution!

Bring Me Problems, Not Your Solution!

2018, Sep 11    

There is a common misconception about delivering solutions and calling it “solution focussed”. Many managers I experience are demanding to be delivered solutions - be it from their own employees or consultants. This behaviour is kind of a perverse incentive and may also lead to cobra effects.

Three Ice Creams, Same Flavour

Arriving at client for our first meeting there’s usually the same picture greeting me over and over. Some or the other parts of management - sometimes senior, sometimes not - host me and my colleague in one of the fancier meeting rooms available. Then the show starts: They give us a full death by slides about their organisation and what is going wrong in there. After a one-hour introduction they ask for the solution to their situation. Then they are going to “challenge” our approach by presenting us their solution that we must install for them!

Another, different yet similar, example of this:

Something goes wrong, be it a production downtime or a project that is going off the road. Senior management slams the door and wants the situation resolved. When you try to investigate the root causes you are shut down. Management demands: Don’t waste time! Bring me a solution! That something many employees in the organisations that I coach experience. A more “agile” scenario: I was coaching a Scrum Master with a team, that recently started doing agile. In one of their first retrospectives the Lead Developer brought up a line of problems he saw in the team. Then he came up with a matching action item. The problem was: He came up with issues that were not yet existing for the team. The Scrum Master did everything right. In fact the retrospective was awesome!

After the retrospective I asked the Lead Developer about his reasoning. His answer was plain: I really want us to use this new tool. So I looked for situations where it could help us to show the team how useful it will be!

The Dangerous, Common Element

All three scenarios describe different situations, but with an - admittedly easy to spot - common theme. Someone is having his or her solution already in mind and wants to put it in place. This is a common issue that I spot in organisations. Usually somebody higher up the ladder looks at a system, sees something going wrong and concludes a solution for the problem perceived. Often times it is a team lead, Head of Something or other managerial member of the organisation. They even do it in with best intent, thinking to be co-creating by demanding to receive solutions from their underlings. They don’t need them to ponder them problem, because they already have figured it all out. They just need solutions for the situation! (imagine an angry voice)

This is a dangerous path that people are unwittingly taking. There is no real co-creation in demanding solutions. Just because you think you’ve got it all figured out, it doesn’t mean that you are right. Most problems that we face in organisations are not as simple, that you can understand them with a single point of view. In today’s complex world it is vital to understand the context of a problem or side-effect to identify a root cause. Don’t get not distracted by mere symptoms. Otherwise you might find yourself constantly fighting fires with always new hotspots popping up all around you.

Acting Within Understood Context

So how do you counteract? When you are in the position that you think you found a solution to some potential problem apply critical thinking. Question your own perceptions by drawing in others. Omit shouting the solution you have in mind at them. Ask others for their view on the situation. Request input from those people who usually have a different view than your own. Listen to them! Even if it is hard, when the other party does not share your opinion.

Also, and most importantly, include those who are directly affected by the problem. All of them. Take the chance to run workshops to understand the problem first. Then invite those people to work on the solution.

Especially in a management position, it is vital to understand your role. It is not you who has to solve the problems. Instead, it is your job to enable those who are affected by the problem to understand and resolve it on their own. Drop the management and embrace a coaching style of leadership.

In the end its about coming up with problems and not jumping to solutions!