There really is no such thing as an unsolvable problem – only untrained or unwilling people. It’s that simple. People either don’t know how or don’t want to for various reasons. Understanding each of these barriers and how to break through them is critical to solving problems. Let’s ask some key questions for more detail about training and willingness.
– Have the people been trained in problem solving? This may sound silly to some people. Problems are solved all the time without any special training, right? True, but how effectively? There may be some progress by following a common sense approach. But too often, these unstructured efforts can take too long and become very frustrating. Teams can inadvertently solve the wrong problem, only a part of the problem, or even make the problem worse. They are more likely to get bogged down when the problem is more complicated. It gets worse when more people are involved, and when it is an important or emotional issue. Training really is key. Teams need a common language, tools, and a process to avoid these distractions. This process maintains focus on one thing at a time so your meetings stay productive and on track. You can methodically work through any issue. Doing things once and doing them right builds energy vs. draining it.
– Is the training practical? It’s common to find expensive training classes, which can be cost prohibitive for some organizations. Many last for weeks, which can be difficult to fit into schedules. Some come with large binders that end up collecting dust on a shelf. If there is no after-class support, and participants did not master all the tools and techniques during class, has any learning really taken place?
– Is the training repeatable and effective? The tools, techniques, templates, and instructions should be simple enough that a participant can follow through on their own. They should then be able to follow the same process or checklist for any problem. Each problem is different, but the problem solving process is the same.
– Is the training endorsed by leadership? If there is no emphasis from the top, don’t expect complete success in the trenches. The training effort should be integrated into the organization’s strategic plan. It should be cascaded through the organizational chart to personal performance objectives. The leadership endorsement should be communicated deliberately in organizational review meetings. Recognition for progress and results should come frequently and publicly.
– Is there a “Burning Platform?” Click here if you’re not familiar with this often-cited (and perhaps overused) change management story. The premise is, that people often won’t leave their comfort zones unless there is an immediate, survival situation that forces them to change. That may sound extreme, but in a very unproductive, entrenched culture, it may be exactly what’s needed to get started. If your team or organization can not recognize the magnitude and urgency of the issue, it probably won’t get the attention it requires. People need to understand the reason for change. Whether you’re facing a specific problem vs. organizational change or drastic action vs. continuous improvement, leadership needs to communicate purposefully.
– Is the leadership team personally competent? – The “enemies” of action include fear, ignorance, incompetence, politics, lack of leadership, and complacency. Problems fester and often get worse. On the surface, these characteristics appear to be show-stoppers. The reality is that training and coaching, partnering with consultants, and employee or citizen engagement efforts are all strategies that can overcome these obstacles. Your problems are still solvable.
Now some of you will say that you need teamwork or a “can-do” spirit to solve problems. I agree and I’ve blogged about it. We’ve probably all seen dysfunctional teams kill problem solving efforts. However, a solid process, with strong leadership and communication tend to trump dysfunctional teams. Cheerleading can help, but you’ll gain more momentum from methodically following the process. The obvious energy in the room from doing things right will then foster the teamwork you’ve been lacking. Again, the problem is solvable.
Stop letting your organizational problems hold you back. Break through the training and willingness barriers now and see for yourself – there is no such thing as an unsolvable problem.