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Career Doctor: How can I work with my team to find a unique solution to our problem?

By Peter Cullen MIML


We often talk about problems in a meeting. We often talk about the same problem in our next meeting as well. And on it goes. If this scenario sounds familar, read on…

Firstly, you are not alone. This is a common experience in corporate Australia. How do I know? Because the topic is often brought up in my facilitation work. People will bow their head and sigh in recognition of their own work environment. The truth is they’d prefer not to find themselves in this situation anymore. Unfortunately, it is often so ingrained within the culture of the business or department that they can see no way clear.

To halt this issue in its tracks, we need to stop talking about the problem and instead start looking for solutions. That starts with putting your hand up and admitting we know what the problem is, then focusing on how ‘we’ fix it. Many heads are better than one because you benefit from a broader spectrum of thinking and contribution. So, determine whether we need the whole team, members from other teams or a select group who are specialists in their field. Then get together and work together to find and implement a solution.

Working to the following process will keep everyone focused on finding and implementing the best solution:

  1. Define the problem: The most critical point in being solution focused is to ensure the problem is 100 per cent defined correctly. Adequate resources must be allocated to ensure time, money and effort will not be sacrificed by heading in the wrong direction with an inappropriate solution. Once it is defined, consider all the stakeholders involved. What might their contribution have been to the existence of the problem and how might their input be used in finding a resolution?
  2. Be curious: Now that we have defined the problem we need, as a group, to set about asking as many questions as possible. The questions we need to ask need to be expansive, open and probing. They need to focus on the what, why, when, where, who and how. A helpful addition to this process is mind mapping. Creating a mind map can reveal end-to-end systems and processes, internal and external influences, policies and procedures, and much more.
  3. Discovering solutions: One of the great ways to discover solutions is the tried and tested structure of brainstorming. Two great methods are the use of Post-it notes and open forum idea generation. When using Post-it notes it is necessary to provide each team member with five or six Post-its and ask each person to write only one idea on each note then post it on the whiteboard. These can then be grouped for commonality and may be placed on relevant points in the mind map or elsewhere. Brainstorming is simply having a topic and accepting every person’s idea without question and writing them up on a whiteboard.
    Then rank the top five ideas.
  4. Solution selection: It is possible more than one solution will appear viable and a choice will need to be made. Even then it is important to rank all the potential solutions in a table to determine which is the most suitable. I would suggest making four columns, titled respectively Solution, Must-Have Factors, Score and Desirable Factors.
  5. Solution Implementation: Once you have the most desirable solution then comes the implementation ensuring it is measurable so you can the determine modifications and the level of success.

Working together unifies team members on a common cause and contributes to a more sustainable outcome.

Peter Cullen is an education and training facilitator who teaches AIM Education and training courses.

Each three-day program engages participants in developing and implementing their capabilities as managers and leaders.

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