• Will Pemble

Solve Problems Like A Rocket Scientist

Before we start, you can download Team Problem Solving Worksheet here
Team Problem Solving Worksheet
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Remember the scene in the movie Apollo 13, where the flight director, played by Ed Harris, describes the problem of oxygen and power to his team? Do you remember what he did right after that? He stopped talking. As the leader of the team, he shut his mouth and let his very own room full of rocket scientists talk through the action steps that would ultimately save lives. When you’ve got a room full of experts, that's what you do.

You Can Solve Your Biggest Problems In 10 minutes. Why Don’t You?

Team Problem Solving can help you do just that. A key component of the Goal Boss Leadership System, this is an incredibly efficient way to get to the heart of an issue, leverage the best thinking of your team, and define action steps designed to solve even the toughest of problems.

Team Problem Solving Happens Fast. Stay Focused, Get Results

Let’s define our terms. First, is the Consulting Client. The Client is the one with the problem to be solved. When the team problem solving session starts, the Client owns the problem. When it’s over, the client still owns the problem. That’s right. Team Problem Solving is about solving problems. Not giving them away. Ownership for the problem stays put.

Problem Ownership can be a problem of it’s own, if you think about it. When someone shows up at your desk and says, “I’ve got a problem I need your help with,” how does that make you feel? Nervous, perhaps? Maybe they’re here to drop their problem on your desk. Or, maybe you’re one of those “Super Managers” who loves to say, “Just leave that problem here. I’ll save the day!” When you bring your problem into a Team Problem Solving session, you’re taking it with you when you leave.

That’s just one way that Team Problem Solving differs from brainstorming or other problem solving activities. Ownership. Is. Fixed. This gives the Client, the one with the problem, ownership and motivation to get it resolved. Even better, it allows the team to focus on helping solve the problem without the worry that it’ll somehow become their problem.

Keep it Tight! Team Problem Solving Has a Process and Procedures

The beauty of Team Problem Solving is that it works the same way every time. With ground rules, comes consistency and predictability. With consistency and practice, comes expertise. The ground rules for team consults are these:

  • Focus on the problem, not the person

  • Manage Time Ruthlessly

  • Listen!

  • Stay open to suggestions.

  • Do not be defensive.

  • Do not reject ideas.

  • Balance participation to leverage the best thinking of the team

Team Problem Solving Focuses On the Problem, Not The Person

Attack the problem, not the person. Life is hard enough without bringing emotion and blame into it. By focusing on the problem, by asking “What’s wrong,” instead of asking, “What’s wrong with you,” the team and the Client are able to get above the noise of a situation, think things through, and design a plan of attack to solve problems.

Manage Time. Ruthlessly!

Without a structured approach, even the simplest problem in business can suck up hours of meeting time, and yield precisely zero results. We’ve all been there. Team Problem Solving, on the other hand, takes 10 minutes.

There are five steps to the process, as follows:

Step One – Background & Facts: 1 Minute

Asks a “How to” question (e.g. How to boost morale and sales in the Southwest Region?)

States the problem, and provides relevant, concise background and facts.

Step Two – Questions & Answers: 2 Minutes

The team asks concise, closed-ended questions of the Client so as to better understand the issues associated with the problem. Beware of rabbit holes! Keep it tight. Question, Answer. Question, Answer. When two minutes is up, that’s all the questions we have time for.

Step Three – Suggested Action Steps: 5 Minutes

In this step, the Client. Does. Not. Speak. Only members of the team, who go around the room and suggest action steps. For example, “Run a promotion.” Or, “Conduct a team building exercise.” Or, “Research competitive offerings,” and so on. During this step, the Client writes down every suggestion made by their teammates. Don’t judge. Just write. Capture all the ideas. You can sort them out later.

Step Four – Stop and Jot: 2 Minutes

In this final step, the Client chooses action steps from the list of suggestions, and commits to a date when those steps will be started, or completed. The Client is not obligated in any way to take any particular suggestion. The client may also create an action step of their own. Also during this 2 minutes, the Client tells the team which actions steps will be done, and by when.

Team Problem Solving just plain works. It removes emotion and personal agendas from the conversation. It gives everyone in the room an equal voice. It keeps ownership of the problem squarely fixed. It yields consistent, positive results in terms of solving the problem at hand, and in building trust, teamwork, morale.

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