It feels as if there is never enough time to solve each issue or problem without more problems mounting up so fast that we find ourselves taking short-cuts to resolve issues as quickly as possible – this itself can cause problems. In the process of being efficient, we fail to solve the core of each problem; thus we risk getting caught in the trap of a never-ending cycle that makes it difficult to find any real resolutions. Does this sound familiar?
Problem solving is the essence of what leaders exist to do. As leaders, the goal is to reduce the negative impact of problems – which means we must be courageous enough to tackle them head-on before circumstances force our hand. But the reality of the workplace finds us dealing with people that complicate matters with their corporate politicking, self-promotion, power-plays and emotional baggage. Departmental silos, lack of budgets and resources, and many challenges also make it harder for people to be productive.
Competitors create problems for us when they unexpectedly take a long-standing client, enter a new market, or launch a new product or strategy. Mergers & acquisitions keep us on our toes and further distract us from solving existing problems by creating new ones.
Karl Popper “All life is problem solving.”
The most effective leaders approach problems through a lens of opportunity. The ability to think creatively and beyond the immediate obstacle and being able to see the whole picture. A leader must never view a problem as a distraction, but rather as a strategic opportunity for continuous improvement the benefit of now being aware of what was previously unseen.
1. Transparent Communication : Problem solving requires transparent communication where everyone’s concerns and points of view are freely expressed. Too often I have struggled to get to the root of the problem because of poor communication and the absence of speaking up. We all understand that communication is vitally important, but how much do we work at getting open and clear understanding. The problem is that those involved in the problem don’t want to talk about it – fearing they may threaten their job and/or expose their own or someone else’s wrong-doing – the problem solving process becomes a search for true sense of what is happening. Effective communication towards problem solving is made possible with a leader’s ability to facilitate open dialogue between people. Trust and clear intentions create a safe environment to share.
2. Break Down Department Silos : For transparent communication the leader must break down silos and boundaries in the organisation. Unnecessary silos invite hidden agendas rather than welcome efficient cross-functional collaboration and problem solving. Organisational silos are the cause of many workplace problems and a barrier to improvements. Today’s workplaces must embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, employees should be free to cross-collaborate and connect the problem solving dots. Breaking down silos allows a leader to more easily engage their employees to get their hands dirty and solve problems together. It becomes less about corporate politicking and more about finding resolutions and making the organization stronger.
3. Open-minded People : Breaking down silos and communication barriers requires people to be open-minded. In the end, problem solving is about people working together to make the organisation and the people it serves better. Therefore, if you are stuck working with people that are closed-minded, effective problem solving becomes a long and winding road of misery.
4. A Solid Foundational Strategy : Without strategy, change is merely swapping, not improving. Strategy must be a part of all problem solving. Effective leaders that are comfortable with problem solving always know how to gather the right people, resources, budget and knowledge from past experiences. They inspire people to lift their game by making the problem solving process highly collaborative; for them, it’s an opportunity to bring people closer together.