Organizational Problem-Solving Made Simple

If you have a leadership role at work, solving problems is just part of the equation. It doesn’t take long to realize that problem-solving can be pretty complicated. What type of problem is it? What caused it? What is the best action to take? And on top of all that, often times we either feel unqualified or under-resourced to come up with the best solution.

Welcome to organizational leadership.

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Solving problems isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier when you have a process that works. I want to share a process I’ve used to facilitate problem-solving workshops in the past.

Determine the appropriate time to engage in problem-solving

It’s hard to take time away from “work” to invest in problem-solving – or goal-setting, performance discussions, benchmarking, etc. But these leadership responsibilities are simply part of the job. This means we must find a way to invest time in the process. Maybe the best option is an agenda item in a training program. Or perhaps a separate offsite or simply some time blocked off on the calendar. Just don’t assume it’ll “just happen.”

Involve the right people

Some problem-solving is our responsibility. Other times, we need to involve a team. Still other times, we need to identify the people closest to the problems to get the most accurate input. In many cases, these folks have the best solutions and our job as leaders is to find ways to systematize them for the rest of the organization.

Utilize a progressive method

I used this problem-solving checklist with a cross-functional group of managers recently. They self-selected the topics that most affected their part of the organization. Then they spent about 60 minutes working in small groups and another 30 minutes sharing their group input with others. Here was the checklist each group worked through:

Definition: What is the nature of the issue?

Timing: When does the issue occur?

History: What have we tried so far?

Bright spots: When/where/with whom does this issue not occur?

Resources: Where (or from whom) could we get more information?

Possible Solutions: What actions could we take to help eliminate the causes and solve the problem?

Action Steps: What actions will we take?

The session was a huge hit with this particular group, especially with the input from various sides of the issues at hand. And without a doubt the group came up with much better (and more comprehensive) solutions than any one of them would have alone – and that definitely included myself.

Share your results

When you come up with potential solutions, the worst thing you can do is keep the information to yourself. The most important (and easiest!) next step is the share it with others. That’s the core essence of continuous improvement. Good ideas don’t respect the chain of command – they can come from anywhere. Don’t wait to be asked for the solutions to the issues you’re working on (even if they are only recommendations at this point). Anticipate who needs the the information you have and work proactively to make it available.

With success comes complication. So whether things are going well or poorly, we’ll always have issues to address. The key is how we respond.

What’s your process for organizational problem-solving?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.