A Paradox for Problem Solving

Boss WEB SMLOne of the biggest laments for CEOs is that their people don’t think for themselves. Think about it. If you have several or even one team member who incessantly comes to you with questions instead of solutions your day is full of constant interruptions and productivity falls to zero – for both you and your team member. For the CEOs, the ideal is to have people think for themselves thus freeing up time for them to work on larger business issues. Why can’t or won’t people think for themselves?

The Culprit

The very strategy for management is one of the culprits. The idea for management is finding the perfect or at least the best business solutions. The next step is then designing the processes for solving these business dilemmas. The final step is embarking those processes to your team who then follows them according to management’s directions usually without reasons given or questions asked.

Our business reality today requires a different approach. The reason discussions about self-managing teams, nimble organizations, and change management are so prevalent is because the management model mentioned is no longer practical. There are so many changes occurring so quickly, that business requires quicker and more innovative problem solving and problem solvers.  

Low Hanging Solutions

There are some quick and easy ways to help team members be more innovative and better problem solvers. Here are a few suggestions.

The Toyota Way: Toyota’s method is to help their employees see what good work looks like but let them decide on the process to get there.

The Preschool Way: A preschool instructs its students the “3 Before Me Method.” Before anyone interrupts the teacher with a problem, the student must first try three different ways to solve the problem first. Yes, adults can probably handle this method.

The Asking Questions Way: You can ask the stumped employee a series of questions such as:

  1. What ideas might you have?
  2. If I hadn’t been here today, how would you have solved this problem?
  3. What have you tried so far?

You get the idea. This can take time as well, Of course, the idea is to coach the employee into the preschool method.

Probing the Paradox

Let’s delve a little deeper.  A new study reveals that our own attitudes toward problem solving can be the curse or the cure; or as one source puts it: “The problem is how we think about the problem.” (Miron-Spektor, Ingram, Keller, Smith, & Lewis). The study acknowledges our rapidly changing business environment and the difficulties and tension that can bring. However, for those who embrace and accept change and its ambiguity, we are far better able to solve a problem Those who take a more negative attitude about change, chaos, and ambiguity, are more likely to have difficulty or no success at all in problem solving. As you know, resistance to change is inherent in some behavioral styles. Understanding your behavioral style and how you respond to the pace of the environment can help prepare you to handle changing situations.

Managers need to understand the behavioral style of their direct reports. For example, understanding that an S and C behavior styles need time to handle change can help you both better prepare for it. Understanding the D and I might embrace change, therefore, you may need to help them to be patient with others and not to be headstrong about embracing just any change just the sake of change.

Thank you for reading this blog. If yhu would like ideas on helping your team members think for themselves Let's Get Started!

Gino, F. & Staats, B. (2015, June). Developing Employees Who Think for Themselves. HBR
Miron-Spektor, E., Ingram, A., Keller, J. Smith, W.K., Lewis, M. W. (2018). Microfoundation of Organizational Paradox: The Problem is How we Think About the Problem.  Academy of Management Journal Vol. 61, No. 1, 26-45. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2016.0594
Scivicque, S. (n.d.). How to Teach Employees to Think for Themselves. Ivy Exec

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