“Problem solving situations_EiB_104.8”

Topic 7 from the “Constant change requires leaders to excel in the basics” series

transcript written by Wayne Brown

Kick starting Topic 7…

Congratulations on tuning back in to this next topic which deals with Problem Solving around issues with your stakeholders and projects. Until this point we have been focused on building the team dynamics and disrupting the traditional ideas or approaches in areas such as motivation, delegation and feedback.

And whilst the 1st portion of this episode will deal specifically with the creation of self awareness about your leadership style in managing conflict and how to respond to team challenges and difficult conversations, we shall broaden this perspective for the remainder of the video, to look at how to engage the stakeholder in Problem Solving, Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking constructs.

It’s a fascinating and incredibly insightful leg of the journey, as it’s one of the “basics” areas practiced least often by leaders. Therefore we can’t wait to share these ideas with you as we know the learning and subsequent outcome for you and your team is enormous. So please get comfortable, take a note book in hand & focus your energy as we step through this topic called Problem Solving Situations.

First to recap on the previous topics…

If you have followed the steps introduced in our previous 6 episodes you will have greatly reduced the likelihood of dealing with argumentative stakeholders – in particular those in your team. And if you recall during topic 5 Feedback Strategies, you were introduced to a few models for successfully delivering feedback – using FAST, BOOST and SBI which are among the more popular methods today.

So it’s probably no real surprise as well, that when you are the leader introducing change, be-it a new process, systems or tools, offering constructive feedback, or any number of other diverse situations, the recipients may not always be on the same page as you nor agree with your opinion or actions.

The learning here is that this is a natural part of leadership as everyone is an individual and whilst they may for the most part be a loyal team player, co-operative colleague, understanding boss or considerate client, they will still hold unique personal values, beliefs and perspectives, which may not always align with the working environment, situation or discussion.

Let’s start by looking at our Conflict Style…

Therefore as a starting point in this episode we want you to reflect first on your own conflict handling style. This self awareness of your style preference will greatly enhance your ability to handle different scenarios (if you choose to utilize it) with different stakeholders, more effectively and avoiding unintentional escalation of the matter.

For this we introduce a very popular tool called the Thomas-Kilmann model of Conflict Management. This model compares our level of assertiveness against our willingness to cooperate in a conflict situation and defines 5 different conflict styles which we can and do adopt as a result.

  • Ranging between a win-win outcome through collaboration on the one hand and to total avoidance of the issue at the other end.

In between these two extremes, we also have 3 other styles;

  • Competing, where you are highly assertive with little willingness to cooperate. This tends to create the win-lose outcome.
  • Accommodating, where you are highly cooperative, however normally at your own expense. This of course might be intentional for example where you wish to preserve the relationship.
  • And lastly through Compromise such as in a sales negotiation process where there is typically give & take, but it can also be considered as a lose-lose situation as neither party achieves what they really want.

Depending on the stakeholder and the situation in conflict, you may decide elect to use any of the 5 styles or even select a combination of more than one these options. We’ll go deeper into conflict management in the Advanced series, but for now check out the links provided here in this blog, to help with your self awareness and understanding of how you can utilize this knowledge during future conflict situations.

Take the test…

We would encourage you to complete the questionnaire included above and practice using the 5 styles.

Exploring conflict scenarios…

And back to our reality that all leaders should expect this conflict scenario to present itself at some stage. It’s important therefore to prepare ourselves (by knowing our default styles) and learn to allow the stakeholders to air their grievance, voice their concerns and state their thoughts, without you reacting inappropriately.

To assist us in this regard, when conflict arises during team feedback sessions, it’s pleasing to know that we can predict with a degree of accuracy (based on numerous studies in this field), the types of push back to expect. Knowing this, enables us to be somewhat prepared ahead of the communication.

Typically the recipient will express one or more of these 4 responses if being confronted about an issue.

  1. They deny that the situation exists in which case you need to be able to support the claim with facts and examples.
  2. They may trivialize the scale of the situation stating that it’s not really a big issue – in this situation you support your claim with an outline of the impact and why it matters
  3. They may shifting the blame onto others. Here you should allow the recipient to detail the situation as they see it and explain the causes. Dig into the situation to find the root cause.
  4. Shifting blame onto a lack of personal knowledge or skill – here you would explore together which capability is missing and agree if this is truly the cause. If so, decide a solution together.

In the end it’s important to reach agreement on a way forward with concrete actions, nomination of the responsible persons and clear timeline milestones.

The more you expose yourself to this challenge, the better you are likely to become in handling the situation and managing your style, provided of course that you utilize the tools provided and practice the communication methods already highlighted.

Remember to be factual and base the feedback on your observations not hear-say, park your emotions, allow time for input from the recipient and work towards solutions, don’t get bogged down in the issue or problem. Keep moving the discussion towards the solution.

Now to the more complex situations…

But what if we confront a more complex problem with a larger group? This will require a somewhat different approach.

Let’s consider that your company is working on a large project and have encountered a significant problem which could jeopardize the completion date and financial outcome.

People are getting emotional, the atmosphere is heated and the blame game is rampant. What can be done to quickly settle down the situation and move things towards a solution? The obvious step would be to call the team meeting, paint the picture and demand cohesion and effort to bring the turn around.

We see this approach used time and again and with similar outcome – most often with little change in performance or success.

Introducing Problem Solving techniques…

Well thankfully it’s possible and relatively easy to disrupt this mentality by introducing a little logic and process to the equation – we kick start this with our Problem Solving mindset and later elaborate on the process with Critical and Creative Thinking techniques.

These steps are what we were referring to earlier when we said that most managers fail to utilize the collective genius of the group to identify and solve complex problems fearing that the process takes too much time or more often that they simply don’t know how or what to do.

So let’s unpack this approach in greater detail and understand more about each component and examine some of the supporting tools. And we start with the traditional Problem Solving methodology.

Starting with an understanding of this term Problem Solving and the realization that many companies have developed their practices to incorporate one or more of the problem solving methods as standards in their daily workplace activities. You can see the definition and a small sampling (10) of common problem solving methods/tools on the screen.

This problem solving approach became very popular in the automotive industry around  quality topics in the 1980’s and utilized many of these assessment tools. It has since spread to all areas of business and usually with simplified methodology such as Constructive or Inductive Reasoning techniques or perhaps PDCA – plan do check act just to name a few.

To help you understand better I would like to introduce a simple but effective method for you which relates to the concept and how this problem solving theory can be applied in your business practices with stakeholders and projects.

The approach covers the principles adopted in the majority of methods whilst utilizing a simple 6 step model. Hence the reason I prefer this, particularly when working with groups that are not familiar with traditional problem solving techniques.

Each of the 6 steps have a multiple of characteristics, which we adhere to or question during that stage plus at the same time we’ll incorporate various tools or techniques for drilling deeper into the problem.

The process starts with step 1 “Defining the problem”. In this step we look to diagnose the situation so that our focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. For this stage we introduce the end to end process review in the form of a flow chart to ensure we are clear about what is meant to happen along the entire activity.

Next in step 2 we “Determine the root causes or causes”. Meaning what is it that is causing you to wind up in this problem or situation? We use tools such as the cause and effect diagram and the 5 Why questioning technique to explore deeper into the linkage .

In step 3 we need to “Define alternative solutions” – typically using lateral thinking exercises such as Brainstorming you try to identify all possible answers. Anything which may help solve this issue should be considered.

Then in Step 4 we “Select a solution or solutions” after grouping and prioritizing the possibilities before choosing the one/s which you believe will resolve the matter.

Now that the solution has been chosen, we are left with the task of “Implementing the change” in step 5, which can be a simple or complex process and involving multiple steps depending on the scale of the problem. And as a final step we continue to “monitor and evaluate” the results after the implementation has been completed.

But wait – we still have more to show…

We could of course stop here as this Problem Solving approach alone will result in a high degree of success over most problems and resolve most disagreements. But of course we want to make sure you have a fully endowed arsenal of tools and therefore we’re going to incorporate the applications of creative and critical thinking. These two separate elements are highly powerful as stand alone topics and could have a video devoted to each, but in our case we want to highlight merely their value add & show how to couple them together for greater problem solving effect.

Let’s start by introducing Creative Thinking as a means of expanding the range of our solutions particularly during step 3 of our Problem Solving exercise. This is the concept of thinking outside of the box to generate innovative thoughts and ideas. Moving from convergent to divergent ideas.

The concept of Creative Thinking…

Looking for alternative solution rather than only one correct outcome. To create the right stimulation for this creative thinking process to occur you need to establish the right environment and combine the right ingredients – such as a diverse group of people with different roles, different backgrounds, different cultures, age, gender, expertise and so on, as and where necessary. Plus be sure to clearly define the game rules for the creativity exercise.

With this in place, we can call on different creative thinking tools and techniques. Again there are a considerable number to select from – Brainstorming, Mind mapping from Tony Buzan, 6 hats from Edward Debono, some less known approaches such as SCAMPER and they can be supported by following more abstract and remotely practiced suggestions from people such as Balder Onarheim with the use of “continuous practice” to train your mind to think creatively, the use dream sleep to work on solving a stated problem or using randomness to trigger abstract connections to the problem. Whichever you select the aim is to enhance the solution ideation.

Followed by Critical Thinking…

And then of course once we have these new untested thoughts, how can we assess them and that’s our bridge to the use of Critical Thinking in our problem solving process. So what is critical thinking – well it can be defined as a developed skill acquired through practice, which enables the ability to think clearly and rationally, to understand the logical connection between ideas.

It refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgmentCritical thinking involves the evaluation of sources such as data, facts, observable phenomenon, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve a problem or make a decision. 

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. So if we reflect back to our 6 step problem solving process, we have already utilized Creative Thinking during step 3 to enhance and broaden our possible solution pool.

Now in step 4 during the selection of the most effective solution we can apply our critical thinking to challenge our rationale, based on the facts provided in step 2 & 3. The outcome will be a concise, well thought through reasoning, which sits behind the solution selection process.

So there we have the complete approach – we started with the simple feedback situations and encountering individual disagreement or resistance. Learning about our conflict management style and then broadened our perspective to more complex issues affecting larger projects and groups.

For these we introduced a simple 6 step Problem Solving methodology which encapsulates both Creative and Critical Thinking practices.

Putting theory into practice…

And I want to share with you a highly effective example of addressing a problem which combines all 3 elements – problem solving combining the use of creative and critical thinking is through the use of a systems thinking model referred to as a collaborative visualization approach.

Addressing the problem through this systems model by using drawings of images on sticky notes pages and arranging then expanding on the end to end process flow through group collaboration – to produce a visual frame of reference offering both clarity and alignment. This approach is excellently illustrated on Tom Wujec’s site called DrawToast and his Wicked Problem Solving™ toolkit.

Having facilitated workshops where groups used the approach, I can vouch first hand on it’s effectiveness. We will include a link to his website and TEDTalk so that you can gauge for yourself the methods effectiveness.

And so to conclude and introduce the next topic. With this topic closing we have now provided you a 3 part mini series related to feedback, celebrating success, managing conflict and solving problems. Applying the learnings from these 3 videos alone will stand you apart from most leaders.

Therefore please do yourself a favor and review them again if there is anything you are unclear about and remember to re-visit any of these podcast transcripts here at our site amentorscouch.com to access each transcript which contain all of the topic related links.

And onto next week…  

With only 3 videos remaining in this Basics series, you have reached the business end of proceedings. Up next, topic 8 dealing with the Necessity for Change. I have a little surprise lined up for you in this video but you’ll need to wait until we release it to see more.

The final two topics cover “Pitching value based strategies” and “Running with your game plan”.

In these 3 episodes we bring into scope “Self Awareness” which was recently cited in a MIT Sloan Management Review article as the most important capability for any leader. Whilst self awareness, similar to communication, has always been a foundational part of this program, it will start to become a more visible component in our discussions as our attention turns towards you more so than the team or other stakeholders.

It’s been a blast…

I can’t wait to bring the Change story to you but until then stay safe and be careful driving. Cheers for now.

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