Yesterday I made some comments about the primary reasons a leader would use a problem solving process with a team. The two reasons I listed were the need for strong ownership and/or the need for great creativity. I also mentioned that a problem solving process should never be used as abdication for good leadership analysis and thinking. As a leader, you should use problem solving processes sparingly and when absolutely necessary for one of the reasons listed above. In this post I want to talk a little bit about some practical pointers when utilizing a problem solving process with a team.
1. Think again–is this an issue that requires strong ownership and/or great creativity? If so, then this could be a great tool to help engage the best thinking your team has to offer.
2. Place a set time in the schedule for how long this process will run. You will wear out your people if you facilitate a processes that lasts over two hours–and do so on a regular basis. I would actually suggest that you aim for an hour long process. If something is too complex for a single hour, then take a break and set a second time (less than an hour this time) for getting to execution. Too often teams get stuck in endless analysis and do not maintain the focus necessary to arrive at good solutions. Limiting the time frame will help you maintain focus.
3. The team leaders should feel the freedom and necessity to come to the table with the problem clearly defined. This is the perogative of the leader and the team is depending on it. Don’t waste time in the team setting to try and define the problem. Arrive with a clear problem statement in hand and even a few of the solution criteria that will help form the grid for choosing good solutions.
4. Have a set time for each part of the problem solving process and empower a time keeper to maintain the schedule. Usually a process will include several steps, and each step, while important, must be limited to a certain time frame to ensure you get through the whole process in the desired time. The team needs to see progress and have a sense of hope that you will actually get to an executable stage.
5. Be sure you actually get to the execution phase of problem solving. Often, teams will do some great brainstorming and then never execute what they have decided. If you don’t get to good execution then you have not really solved anything. Be sure that the execution includes clear roles, deadlines, and goals. This will help to ensure a measurable, effective learning opportunity–and keep you from just talk.
6. Consider empowering others on the team to actually lead the process. Sometimes the team leader is not the best one to lead the team through a formal process. You might consider another team member who is more gifted in the art of facilitation and empower them. This will also help to develop their future leadership.
There are a few of my tips and traps on this topic. What have you learned in your experience of leading teams?