Some say that a leader’s main job is to solve problems. If that is true, the best leaders know how to solve problems most effectively. As part of our customized situational leadership training, we often closely examine best practices of problem solving.
Here is what we have learned:
- Make sure all thoughts and ideas for solutions are welcome and fairly considered.
Unless problems are analyzed from all sides, you may well miss the most effective solution. Teams need to encourage everyone to speak up freely. Root causes may not be fully explored if communication is squelched or discounted. It is up to the leader to provide a setting where employees trust that blame is not the objective…solving the problem is.
- Establish a corporate culture where employees navigate freely across functions.
Silos prevent free and open communication and are often the cause of problems…Team A does not know what Team B is doing. Each group becomes protective of their territory and progress toward enterprise-level goals can be blocked. As a leader, seek to break down cultural and functional silos and re-establish common goals. Make knowledge sharing the standard so teams can spot areas where collaboration will eliminate duplication of effort and drive performance more effectively.
- Look for and hire employees who value diversity and open communication.
For a broad array of views on root causes and alternative solutions, build an organizational culture where different backgrounds are celebrated and respected. A corporate culture where everyone thinks alike is one where innovation suffers. Make sure your recruiting team and hiring managers know what to seek in job candidates for them to thrive in your culture. These values become the lifeblood of your problem-solving environment and long-term organizational health.
- Alignment of strategy, culture and talent is the key to success.
An alignment problem solving framework can help to ensure that your root cause analysis and approach occurs at the right level. For example, start by examining if the strategic objectives and goals related to the issue are clear, believable and implementable enough to the concerned parties. If they are not, there is probably not much reason to dissect organizational or team issues until the objectives are clear. If things seem clear at the strategic level, begin to investigate culture-based issues regarding success metrics, performance exposure mechanisms, rewards, communication, roles and accountability combined to see if there are any weak spots. Then discuss if the issues are related to your ability to attract, develop, engage or retain talent. This strategy, then culture, then talent thought process has helped hundreds of leaders solve problems faster at the right level.
When leaders come to view problems as opportunities for continuous improvement, individual employees, teams and the company as a whole will benefit.