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When They Expect Solutions

Apr 05, 2023

People come to you with problems and expect you to have answers -- and sometimes you don’t. But even when you do – should you offer the solution? 

For quick decisions that have low impact, that’s usually the right move. When the solutions are not clear and the impact crosses over multiple people or areas, a collaborative approach can uncover better solutions and increase ownership. Still groups can get lost in the process of collaborative problem-solving.

  • Struggle in diagnosing the problem due to gaps of information
  • Cut off ideas because they threaten change or lack substance
  • Quickly add a band-aid solution that doesn’t address the real problem
  • Forget to include the people who can resist change or champion change

When it comes to problem-solving, we have places in the process where our brilliance shines and other places that drain our energy. There are four functions we use to solve problems. Each of us can operate in all functions but dedicate more mental energy to one or two that come more naturally. That doesn’t mean you don’t use the third or fourth functions – it just takes more energy and intentionality for you.

Show Me the Data 

What is the real problem anyway? People who thrive in this function need data to diagnose what is going on. The problem usually surfaces with symptoms or stories. We might say -- Julie looked disappointed we didn’t have coffee at the meeting. Without searching for real data, the story becomes, “I heard people were upset we missed the boat on having coffee, we need to do something now.” If we make decisions on symptoms or stories alone, we don’t make lasting, impactful decisions. Some people are just natural data-diggers and will spend energy fact finding. What do we know? What do we need to know? They will push for data-driven solutions.

Think Through Possibilities

Sometimes the data points clearly to an idea, sometimes deeper possibilities must be explored. For people who love this part of the process, every bit of data inspires an idea. They have been having ideas all along. Things like brainstorming inspire new approaches, new ways of thinking. These people move quickly to possibilities and are pushing everybody out of the data zone to the dreaming zone. 

Analyze our Options

This is the space in the process that we take a hard look at the ideas shared. Compare them to the data. Evaluate what will work and what won’t. This might be a pros and cons list, a vote by the group, or some other sorting method that prioritizes options. Some people thrive in this function and can easily sort options in their head, turn them around from every angle and make sense of what will work and what won’t. They enjoy bringing everything to the bottom-line and getting on with it!

Evaluate the Impact

This space is looking at the solution from the angle of the people or values involved. Will the solution address the original concern? How might dissent sneak back up on us later? What about the people outside this room, how will they be impacted? People in this zone can see the impact on people in the room, outside the room, and outside the organization. They might even jump in earlier on the conversation with concerns about ideas or options being considered with these criteria in mind. They instinctively know that people are at the core of any successful solution.

Final Thoughts

Not every part of the process will invite your strengths and what comes easy for you. We all can fall into the trap of misapplying our strengths at the wrong time in the process. Like shooting down ideas during brainstorming, jumping too quickly to solutions, or minimizing the impact to others. Bringing all four functions of the process ignites energy around the table and offers better options to push forward into implementation!

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