The skill to solve problems is an ability. And like other skills, like exercise or driving, it gets better with a lot of practice. This is something that many managers fail to realize, and they end up building and managing ill-equipped teams, untrained to make quick and effective decisions and solve problems before they escalate to higher-level issues.
Untrain the Lack of Ownership
In most workplaces, the prevailing attitude towards issues and problems are that they “belong” to someone else. This could be another department, another staff member, or at times another floor. There is strong resistance to solving a problem at work without being directly told to do so.
This lack of ownership and initiative can be very frustrating for business owners and managers. However, the responsibility for developing the initiative needed for solving problems lies with the business culture and managers.
Reasons Teams Don’t Initiate Problem-Solving
There are some reasons behind the lack of ownership most people show when they face a problem at work. These reasons could be:
For managers that manage every little task of their team, there will be little initiative on display from their staff. This micromanagement results in low-efficiency levels as it is a self-defeating strategy for teamwork. Training staff to wait for directions means that no one does anything without your approval. The sad thing is that most micromanagers are unaware of how bad their style is for business and its performance.
Zero Tolerance for Mistakes
Another huge factor for lack of initiative in staff is low tolerance for mistakes. Having an approach that rebukes staff heavily for mistakes made during work can send mixed signals to staff. This is especially true for managers that lose their tempers.
Little Team Development
If there is little effort to build a culture of teamwork and initiative, there is no point in expecting team efforts. Managers that support and encourage individual efforts will face awkwardness in collaborative tasks as employees show a lack of focus and comfort towards teamwork.
All three problems can be resolved with training and cultural amendments. To go about building an effective problem-solving team the following steps can be followed:
Practice Small Problem-Solving Tasks
Managers can start practising small group problem-solving tasks by creating small problems. This is effective in getting staff unfamiliar with working together to start collaborative work. Pick a small initiative that needs group work and their ultimate consensus. Resist the urge to offer solutions or step in any way. Instead, act like a moderator and advisor for the group.
As the group starts to work better and smoother, you can increase the complexity of the tasks and continue to support and facilitate. This should improve team problem-solving abilities.
As the team develops, make sure that they get the autonomy to implement their ideas, along with the accountability for their actions. There is no substitute for actual ownership of the solution and its implementation.
The invisible support behind letting the group generate a solution from identification to resolution shows your confidence and trust in their work. Employees and teams react positively to this show of trust.
Teach Problem Framing
Framing is a very useful management technique to look at a problem from different perspectives. Teaching your teams to frame issues from different perspectives, the positive, negative or neutral, and then developing unique solutions for each perspective can yield effective results.
For example, a production team may see a competitor’s new launch as a threat. Another ‘frame’ may propose that the competitor will now be focused on bringing their new product to market, which leaves other product variations open to focused targeting from your firm.
Eliminate the Boss
A key feature of a team’s problem-solving skills is the absence of a boss. Instead of having boss-based meetings, and discussions, it is better that everyone knows that no one is too low or too high in the company hierarchy to come up with solutions or make mistakes.
This doesn’t mean that the team is unsupervised or without support. Be available for logistics, budgetary and advisory support.
Respond with Calm
This is particularly applicable for hot- and quick-tempered managers or for high-pressure tasks. Never respond to failures or mistakes with anger. A group mistake on a major issue can be frustrating and cause anger, but it will be destructive and negatively affect team performance in the future.
The appropriate reaction will be to encourage the team to analyze what worked and where it (or they) went wrong. Encourage them to discuss what they will do differently in the future and move forward. Lingering on failure is toxic for any team.
Set High Expectations
Most of the steps above imply a reduced or distanced role for you as the manager, however, you have the final say about the recommendations of your team. As their manager, it is up to you to push the team to do better, rethink a complex issue, or reconsider all options.
A great technique to adopt is to ask the appropriate questions. This means that you ask questions that push the team to think critically about a problem. This is more effective than direct criticism and pushes the team to work better.
The stress and pressures of teamwork are bearable by the accomplishment and contribution of team members. The celebration of achievements for some time is a powerful reinforcement for working together to solve problems.
The Bottom Line
Great results are possible with every team, but they cannot be counted on. Teams do best when they have a clear structure, support, and processes that are reinforced positively. The essence of group work is to solve problems, quicker (and hopefully better) than an individual would.