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5 Tips to Improve Team Issue Solving

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Author - Terri Wilcox - Feb 2018

How good is your team at solving issues? Are they disciplined about going after a solution as quickly as possible? Problem solving is a required skill for any team and the recipe for success is made up of:

  1. the belief that “my team owns the problem”,
  2. the courage to make decisions amidst complexity and lack of information, and
  3. the openness to taking some risk.

As Business Advisors who facilitate leadership team meetings on a daily basis, we sometimes find ourselves caught between a team’s expectation of us as leaders and their expectations of themselves as leaders. When meetings are focused on issue solving, who should be providing the solutions? Who leads the decision-making? In order to clarify, RFB makes a distinction between advisory-facilitation and consulting. To us, there is a difference. The usual consulting program starts with a sizing-up of your business, using some type of assessment or audit and from there, offering solutions. However, if consultants offer solutions, then they must own the issue (since they identified them). AND, if that is the case, they now own the project. So, who ultimately is accountable in the end?

Do you see where this is going? This is YOUR company. These are YOUR issues within an industry YOU know very well.

So, who should own the problem?

Your Leadership Team. Owning a problem is not about blaming someone, it’s about taking on the responsibility to change something or find a solution to an obstacle that is holding your company back from building value. RFB Business Advisors are experts at drawing the knowledge and experience out from the team members around the table. Issue solving is a team sport and the accountability toward executing any solution lies with that team. Together, we work to clarify the issues, collaborate, solve and hold each other accountable for getting things done. This is truly a skill that develops through a continuous improvement mindset.

How can a team improve their issue solving skills?

Start by thinking like leaders and owners. Gather your leadership team and collaborate the best solutions possible by following a few basic disciplines:

1. Keep it simple and be clear

Groups have a tendency to create complexity. Teams, especially in meetings, tend to get into the weeds so much that it’s hard to find their way back to the problem. Does your team know how to facilitate themselves out of these situations? The best, most successful teams create simple processes that clear away ambiguity and work for their particular team dynamics and style. These disciplines practiced within meetings help teams stay on track and not lose sight. Start by

  • Identifying and stating the problem
  • Discussing the issue – timed while allowing everyone a chance to speak
  • Being disciplined and courageous enough to call for a solution to the problem (vs. avoidance). Remember “momentum over perfection”. It may not be the perfect solution, but at least make a decision. Solve it to the best of the team’s ability based on what you know today. If your team consistently avoids solving most problems, you are basically kicking the can down the road which leads to 0 results and allows a team to make excuses for the lack of accountability.

2. Take ownership

Once your team comes up with their best solution, the execution has just begun. The next step is to identify who owns the solution and would be best to lead the project or action. Taking ownership means supervising, observing and communicating consistently to ensure actions are completed. This lead person will engage others to work alongside him/her in various ways. Many people can assist but there should only be one person responsible for the final outcome. If you allow multiple people to co-lead the execution, accountability breaks down. There is one point-person, one narrow spot in the hour glass, one responsible party.

3. Communicate out

Cascade the next steps-execution messages out to everyone who needs to know or may have a stake in the outcome. Many teams forget to share their decisions and resulting actions with other stakeholders not present at their meetings. Get your people prepared in order to understand what is going to happen. Take the time to explain what everyone’s role is in this execution (no matter how small a part). Leaving employees in the dark simply because the leadership team doesn’t have time to communicate is one of the major reasons why change initiatives fail.

4. Follow-up (and close the loop)

Just because one person may own the solution, doesn’t mean the project or action is performed in a vacuum. It takes many hands, many people to execute and when that happens, the owner must follow up on all directives, delegations, commands and coaching. Closing the loop means once you communicate out to others, it is your responsibility to follow up and find out if that communication was actually heard and implemented. For more detail on how to communicate effectively by closing the communication loop, check out“Amazing Workplace: Creating the Conditions that Inspire Success”, a book I co-authored. For your free copy, email me at Terri@theResultants.com.

5. Gain feedback

Just because your team solved a problem doesn’t mean it was completed with ease, efficiency and impact. Great leadership teams aren’t afraid of feedback; in fact, they look forward to it. In other words, they lead with a continuous improvement mindset. Hold a post-mortem or debrief meeting after executing a solution. What did your team learn from their efforts? Would they do it again? Is it something they would never try again? Feedback focuses on the final impact or value brought to the company while analyzing the steps taken. If evaluated from this perspective, it should not turn into a blame game. This is simply a continuous improvement step. Teams should be learning from every problem they solve in order to develop themselves into stronger issue-solving company leaders.

Are your teams solving issues effectively? Do they have what it takes to make decisions in the best interest of the company? Successful teams, whether at the executive, supervisory or work group level, start with a clear and simple process. Being clear on that process allows a team to continuously “discipline up” to the challenge, because issue solving requires courage, risk taking and ownership.

Author Terri Wilcox is co-founder of Resultants For Business and an experienced Business Advisor, organizational strategist and Senior Certified Professional in Human Resources (SHRM-SCP). Connect with her and other RFB® Business Advisors here, or on LinkedIn.

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