By Mark Samuel
People solve problems in order to achieve success in their business, create a more satisfying relationship or grow to their next level of excellence.
Who is a good problem solver?
A good problem solver is someone who can think quickly and creatively in a crisis situation. A good problem solver doesn’t get locked into “the way we do things around here” and thinks more about outcomes to get the job done. They take enough time with their plan that they limit the amount of cascading problems that might come from their solution, but act quickly enough to solve the problem in a timely manner.
But have you noticed that typically, for every problem solved, you create two or three new ones?
Maybe the problem is that we want to earn more money, so we take a job that is more demanding, but now we don’t have time to spend with family or friends. Or, the problem is that we aren’t completing our tasks on time, so we put more time and effort into getting everything done and end up burned out or sick.
The Problem is Obstacles
Problems arise when we face an obstacle on our path, whether it is the path to success, to a loving relationship or to a great vacation. Solving a problem directly generated by an obstacle rarely works because, in many cases, the obstacle is still there. If there is an obstacle while driving, we go around it. But the obstacle is still there slowing down traffic for many people after you. We need to find a way to remove the obstacle itself. The same is true for organizations.
What is an example of an obstacle?
In an organization, the obstacle may be a lack of information or a lack of inclusion on decisions that disrupt our momentum in completing our tasks or serving customers. We tend to solve the problems by creating a “workaround,” blaming someone else for the problem or simply deciding the problem is the “way we do things around here.” It may look like we solved the problem, but the obstacle is still in play, disrupting our effectiveness.
The role of leaders in any organization is not simply being problem solvers and fixers, but to remove the obstacles that prevent others from working efficiently and effectively to serve customers and maintain a profitable business. And, while you can solve a problem yourself by directing people on how to go around the problem, micromanaging or deflecting the problem to someone else, effective leaders remove obstacles and must work with other leaders (at any level) by recreating the work environment in which the obstacles and associated problems no longer exist.
For instance, when projects are not delivered on time based on mishaps along the way, we have several options:
1. Lengthen the time of the project so that it accounts for breakdowns and allows us to be on time.
2. Punish people for being late and add more pressure to their work in hopes that the pressure will force the project to be on time.
3. Remove the siloed thinking and behavior by the different functions who are part of the project team, and set them up for better coordination, troubleshooting and proactive recovery plans. This ensures that deviations won’t cause a breakdown that keeps the project from being successful.
Removing obstacles is a culture issue, not a problem to be solved.
In order to implement the removal of siloed thinking, hero antics or other ego-oriented behaviors that create obstacles, it’s critical that leadership has its own culture of identifying obstacles and changing the culture in which those obstacles are fed and grow.
How do we create that culture?
Five Steps For Becoming An Obstacle Remover
1. Identify the issue.
Have the courage to surface repetitive problems or breakdowns.
2. Be inclusive.
Get the people who are touched by these problems or breakdowns in a room, or, if in a remote location, on a conference call together.
3. Identify the underlying obstacle.
Instead of solving the problems by finding blame, take time to source the root cause of the problem. Attempt to be innovative in solving the problem and identify the aspect of the culture (habits of thinking or behavior) that has allowed the problem or breakdown to grow over time.
4. Visualize a new reality.
Together, start from a clean slate. Identify different roles and expectations, new habits of thinking, and different behaviors that need to be in place for the recurring pattern of breakdowns to no longer exist
5. Implement the new reality.
Develop a plan for implementing the new roles and expectations, the new mindset and the new habits of behavior. Also, create proactive recovery plans for when people slip back to old ways of doing things, as well as a monitoring process to track progress and success.
At the end of the day, leaders must stop spending so much time putting Band-Aids on an unhealthy organization and calling it problem solving. They must dive into changing the work environment itself to remove the root cause obstacles.