Workplace Wisdom

Five Ingredients for a Successful Problem-Solving Recipe

Some business problems are so straightforward they can be solved by the right research; once the facts are available, they dictate the solution, so there’s almost no discussion necessary. When a business problem is complicated and thorny, though, the way you approach it can have even more relevance and impact than the “facts” themselves.

Planning a Balanced Decision-Making Menu

A complex problem’s components may have interdependencies that are neither obvious nor easily quantified. Beyond that, the optimal answer might not be clear — each proposed solution may have unfortunate flaws, side effects, or potential consequences that can only be speculated about.

When everyone sees the problem differently, it can be hard to be sure that you’re even working on the same one! Try mixing in these five ingredients to avoid having too many cooks spoiling the “sauce” of your final decision:

  1. Make a declaration specific enough that everyone will know what you’re trying to solve: “By working together in such-and-such a way, we can accomplish X or fix Y.” When all parties can see where the organization needs to go, and also feel confident that their own goals and concerns are being addressed — what’s in it for them, in other words — they’re more likely to participate in a supportive way.
  2. Open a dialogue, letting people understand that you expect them to share their views on the particular issue that’s being examined. Try putting it this way: “Now that we know what we’re trying to figure out, please share your concerns and interests with the group.” It’s also practical to let them know that it’s their thinking you want, so their views can just be opinions, and don’t actually have to be the solution.
  3. Manage your personal reactions. If you believe that an aspect of the discussion is actually about you, you might overreact and try to control, underreact and withdraw, or become passive-aggressive. To keep you balanced and on-track, return often to the declaration of intent. That’ll help you maintain the appropriate demeanor, and refrain from giving way to your feelings about how team members are behaving (even if that’s a separate problem).
  4. Practice perspective-taking to ensure that people feel heard and acknowledged. Put some time and energy into observing what’s going on with each participant, taking into consideration their work needs, personal beliefs, and past approaches in similar circumstances. But don’t stop there. Think through what those feelings might mean in terms of likely future behaviors and communications, and encourage teammates to continue the dialog by articulating what’s really on their minds.
  5. Name the mutual benefits in both large and small things. You need to make it clear that you’re working to craft an effective solution for all parties concerned, as well as make plain why that solution will be advantageous. That way, even if your eventual outcome turns out to be great for the team but not as good for some individual team members, they’ll be more likely to feel like a part of the final decision and less like they’re standing on the sidelines, unaccounted for.

Boiling Down Many Opinions Into One Solution

You may never get everyone to be perfectly satisfied with your eventual decision. You may need to acknowledge the fact that some individuals aren’t getting what they want, even as you emphasize the overall benefits of the option you’ve chosen. But if you meet the requirements of the declaration and explicitly take individuals’ needs into account during the process, almost everyone who wants to be part of the team will be able to live with the outcome.

Onward and upward,

LK

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