Constant change requires leaders to excel in the basics

Ten skills at the heart of every leader’s arsenal.

“Topic 7 – Problem Solving Situations”

transcript written by Wayne Brown

Congratulations on turning back into this next topic which deals with problem-solving around your stakeholders and projects. Wayne here again, and I will host you through this episode.

Until this point, we have focused on building the team dynamics and disrupting the traditional ideas or approaches in areas such as motivation, delegation, and feedback.

The 1st portion of this episode will deal specifically with creating self-awareness around your leadership style in managing conflict and how to respond to team challenges or 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 notebook in hand & focus your energy as we step through this topic called Problem Solving Situations.

If you have followed the steps introduced in our previous six episodes, you will have greatly reduced the likelihood of dealing with argumentative stakeholders, particularly those in your team. And if you recall, during topic 5 Feedback Strategies, we introduced 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 that when you are the leader introducing change, the recipients may not always be on the same page as you. Nor will they always agree with your opinion or actions. Whether the change relates to a new process, systems, or tools, offering constructive feedback, or any number of other diverse situations. 

The learning here is that this is a natural part of leadership, as everyone is an individual. While they may, for the most part, be loyal team players, cooperative colleagues, understanding bosses, or considerate clients, they will still hold unique personal values, beliefs, and perspectives. These may not always align with the working environment, situation, or discussion.

Therefore, as a starting point in this episode, we want you to reflect on your 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 various 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 chosen level of assertiveness against our willingness to cooperate in a conflict situation and defines five 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 total avoidance of the issue at the other end. In between these two extremes, we also have three different styles; 

  • Competing, where you are highly assertive with little willingness to cooperate, tends to create a win-lose outcome. 
  • Accommodating, where you are highly cooperative, however normally at your own expense. Of course, this 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, it can also be considered a lose-lose situation as neither party achieves what they desire. 

Depending on the stakeholder and the situation in conflict, you may elect to use any of the five styles. Even selecting a combination of more than one of these options. 

We’ll go deeper into conflict management in the Advanced series. Still, we will include several links to videos and articles to help with your self-awareness and understanding of how you can utilize this knowledge during future conflict situations. 

We would encourage you to complete the questionnaire included in the episode blog on our site amentorscouch.com and practice using the five styles.

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 grievances, voice their concerns, and state their thoughts without you reacting inappropriately. 

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

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

  1. They deny that the situation exists, so you need to support the claim with facts and examples.
  2. They may trivialize the scale of the situation, stating that it’s not a big issue – in this situation, you support your claim with an outline of the impact and why it matters.
  3. They may try shifting the blame onto others. Here it would help if you allowed the recipient to detail the situation as they see it and explain the causes. Dig into the problem 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 on a solution together.

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

The more you expose yourself to this challenge, the better you will handle the situation and manage your style. Of course, 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.

But what if we encounter a more complex problem with a larger group? The issue will require a somewhat different approach. 

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

People start becoming emotional, the atmosphere is heated, and the blame game is rampant. How can we calm 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 joint effort.

We see this approach repeatedly and with a similar outcome – most often with little change in project performance or success.

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. 

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

So let’s unpack this approach in greater detail, understand more about each component, and examine some 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 problem-solving methods as standards in their daily work activities. You can see the definition and a small sampling (10) of common problem-solving techniques/tools on the screen. It is not an exhaustive list as there are many approaches, but most share a common theme.

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

To help you understand better, we would like to introduce a simple but effective method, which relates to the concept and how our problem-solving theory applies in your business practices with stakeholders and major projects.

The approach covers the principles adopted in the majority of methods while 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 six steps has multiple 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 to focus on the problem, not just its symptoms. For this stage, we introduce the end-to-end process review in the form of a flow diagram to ensure we are clear about what happened across the entire activity.

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

In step 3, we need to “Define alternative solutions” – typically using lateral thinking exercises such as brainstorming; we try to identify all possible answers. We are considering everything which may be helpful.

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

Implement the change” is the next step. Implementation can be a simple or complex process and may involve multiple sub-steps depending on the scale of the problem. 

And finally, in Step 6, we continue to monitor and evaluate the results after the implementation.

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, we want to make sure you have a fully endowed knowledge base along with an arsenal of tools. 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 had an episode devoted to each. Still, in our case, we want to highlight merely their value add & show how to couple them together for greater problem-solving effectiveness.

Let’s start by introducing creative thinking to expand the range of our solutions, particularly during step 3 of our Problem Solving exercise. 

The concept of creative thinking and using outside of the box, innovative thoughts helps move from convergent to divergent ideas. 

You are looking for alternative solutions 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 appropriate. Plus, be sure to define the game rules for the creativity exercise clearly.

With this in place, we can call on different creative thinking tools and techniques. There are many tools to select from –Brainstorming, Mind mapping from Tony Buzan, Six Hats from Edward Debono, plus some less known approaches such as SCAMPER. 

These tools can be supported by following more abstract and remotely practiced suggestions from people like Balder Onarheim and the use of pre-practiced activities such as “continuous practice.” You train your mind to think creatively, use dream sleep to solve a stated problem or use randomness to trigger abstract connections to the problem. Whichever you select, the aim is to enhance the solution ideation. 

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 – it can be defined as a developed skill acquired through practice, enabling us to think clearly and rationally and understand the logical connection between ideas. 

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

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a given 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 on our 6-step problem-solving process, we have already utilized Creative Thinking during step 3 to enhance and broaden our possible solution pool. 

In step 4, while selecting the most effective solution, we can apply our critical thinking to challenge our rationale, based on the data provided in steps 2 & 3. The outcome will be concise, well thought through reasoning, which sits behind the solution selection process.

And 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 that encapsulates both Creative and Critical Thinking practices.

And I want to share a highly effective example of addressing a problem that combines all three elements. Problem-solving combines creative and critical thinking through a systems thinking model referred to as a “collaborative visualization” approach. 

Addressing the problem through this systems model and using drawings of images on sticky notes or pads, arranging them in the correct sequence expands on the end-to-end process flow through group collaboration. It produces a visual frame of reference offering both clarity and alignment. 

Tom Wujec demonstrates the approach on his website called DrawToast and his Wicked Problem Solving™ toolkit. 

Having facilitated workshops where groups used the approach, I can vouch for its effectiveness. We will include a link to this website and TEDTalk to gauge the method’s effectiveness for yourself.

And so to conclude and introduce the next topic. We have now provided you a 3 part mini-series related to feedback, celebrating success, managing conflict, and solving problems with this topic closing. Applying the learnings from these three 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 visit our site called amentorscouch.com to access each transcript which contains all of the topic-related links.   

With only three videos remaining in this Basics series, you have reached the business end of proceedings. Up next, topic eight dealing with the Necessity for Change. I have a little surprise lined up for you in this episode, 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 three episodes, we bring into scope “Self-Awareness.” An MIT Sloan Management Review article cites self-awareness as the most important capability for any leader. While self-awareness, similar to communication, has always been a foundational part of this program, it will become a more visible component in our discussions as our attention turns towards you more so than the team or other stakeholders. 

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

*** difficult conversations

difficult conversations  – it’s ok to include

difficult conv. Mistakes

**** great starting video – opens the reason why people disagree

——————-

https://www.insperity.com/blog/difficult-conversations-with-employees/

blog about difficult situations – 9 rules

https://www.clearreview.com/difficult-conversations-employee-examples/

additional blog and perspectives

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/holding-difficult-conversation-employees-1918468

3rd blog on difficult conversations 

Problem Solving

  *** (problem-solving intro)

(too long and heavily focused on quality)

 **** (a great video that can support the concept)

  • Group models work much better than individual

https://www.drawtoast.com/

IDEA model – looks at multiple tools for each four steps

—————-

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_00.htm

Problem-solving skills – Mind Tools

https://asq.org/quality-resources/problem-solving

using a 4 step problem-solving method

https://www.managers.org.uk/knowledge-bank/problem-solving

3rd article on problem-solving

Critical Thinking

 *** (short intro to critical thinking)

(tedTalk on three questions to encourage critical questions)

 *** critical thinking five tips

————–

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/learn/critical-thinking.html

critical thinking blog

https://osu.uloop.com/news/view.php/275371/Critical-Thinking-Skills-You-Need-to-Master-Now

critical thinking blog # 2

Creative Thinking

 *** creative thinking – good video

brainstorming video

mind mapping – Tony Buzan

original thinkers – not bad

————-

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/creative-thinking.html

creative thinking blog # 1

https://inkbotdesign.com/creative-thinking/

creative thinking blog #2 – add the characteristics

https://www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html

Brainstorming blog by Mind Tools

https://www.mindjet.com/mind-mapping-techniques/

mind mapping blog

 “Topic 7 – Problem Solving Situations

Video content framework:

Part 1:   Difficult conversations:

– continuation from feedback

  • Why is it needed, and why are some employees more difficult than others?
  • Simple process – can include BOOST and other models
  • Offer likely employee response and your reaction

Part 2:   Problem Solving for difficult situations

  • Define it and when would we introduce it – build on team development to date.
  • Introduce various models but focus on simple ones

Part 3:   Critical Thinking – an acquired skills

  • Define it and when / how to introduce it – build on the past two parts
  • Consider this a new skill that could be useful for leaders and teams to learn.
  • Introduce the process and specific characteristics of a critical thinker 

Part 4:   Creative Thinking – icing on the cake

  • Define it and when/how to use
  • Introduce the practice of brainstorming and mind mapping
  • Value of creative people in the team (original thinkers- procrastination vs. procrastination) 
  • procrastination is a vice when it comes to productivity but can be a virtue for creativity.

Summarize and intro next topic – create the link from this topic and the methods we introduced to the practice of being successful with change.