Make problem solving a way of life in your organisation to respond to unprecedented challenges.
The Covid-19 global pandemic is showing no signs of abating. The resulting deep recession presents an existential threat to many companies and leaders need to rally your people to face difficult months and years that lie ahead. In this process of fighting for survival and recovery, leaders need to make problem solving a way of life to respond to both internal and external challenges.
There are eight key ingredients to build a sustainable problem solving culture in organisations and they are hidden in the word P-R-O-B-L-E-M-S. In Part one of this article, we will look at the first four ingredients.
There are many processes established in organisations to help in its smooth functioning. Similarly, leaders need to identify and establish a common problem solving process in your organisations. A process is important for culture change because it ensures common understanding among your people on the resources required, how it is done, and the expected outcomes. A problem solving process should be simple enough for everyone in your organisation to follow easily. This process should be one that can stimulate team members to let go of old mental models, challenge existing assumptions, generate fresh ideas, and consider diverse perspectives, before collectively making decision. Action Learning is a simple but dynamic problem solving process with only two ground rules and six components. It brings together a group of four to eight people from diverse backgrounds to work on a real problem at hand.
Unless a problem has urgency and importance, those tasked with solving it will devote limited energy or creativity to it. People are motivated when they see results from their efforts in working on a real problem. Hence, actions and results should be an expected output from a robust problem solving process. This will prevent a problem solving session from becoming a chitchat session without any returns on the time and effort invested. In the case of Action Learning, to keep the team focussed, each session must end with an agreed set of committed actions to be implemented by the team before meeting for the next session. The team should also be empowered to take action on the strategies developed so that they see the results of their actions.
3. Open to Everyone
Problem solving should be a democratic process that is open to everyone in the organisation. It should not be the responsibility of a single department in the company and neither should it be reserved only for a privileged few. People respect their leaders more if they’re given opportunities to solve problems. The traditional way of problem solving where a few senior leaders hunker down behind closed doors will not be effective or sufficient anymore. When employees are offered a seat at the table and empowered to make decisions, they become more engaged as they can expand their network and skills. Leveraging team diversity in problem solving has the benefit of discouraging group thinking and allowing different perspectives to surface, thereby leading to more innovative solutions.
4. Baby Steps
It is important to remember that culture change takes time to implement and leaders will not see overnight success. It takes courage, commitment, and discipline from all stakeholders to implement a problem solving culture successfully. For problem solving culture to take root, organisations need to first focus on critical shifts in behaviours like uncovering the root cause of problems. It is also important to start small with pilot projects so that your team can experience the benefits of a problem solving culture with minimal effort. This will motivate them to work towards larger changes and share their experience with others. Leaders should publicly appreciate the contributions from those who step up to serve in problem solving teams. Everyday progress—even a small win—ought to be celebrated and regular communication to share successes with others is also key for culture change.
In Part two of this article, we will looks at the next four ingredients to build a sustainable problem solving culture. They are Leadership, Experiential Learning, Meaning, and Safety.
Phoon Kok Hwa is a Professional Action Learning Coach, Certified Executive Coach, and Learning Facilitator. He enjoys coaching teams to enhance their effectiveness and bringing out the best potential from individuals. He is a member of World Institute for Action Learning Global Board of Directors.
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