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Problem solving: Get out of the spiral of problems

From thinking in terms of problems to thinking in terms of solutions

Problems cannot be avoided in professional life. Wherever work is done, mistakes also happen. When different people work together, there can be misunderstandings, disagreements and friction.

Problems are initially perceived as unpleasant because they cause trouble and cost time and money. Of course there are big and small problems. We find quick solutions to many problems. When a really big problem comes up that causes lasting damage, it usually turns into one Crisis meeting searched for causes and solutions.

How many meetings have you seen in your professional life in which problems were tossed back and forth and scapegoats looked for? After discussions that seemed endless, the mood was at zero. There was no longer any thought of a constructive problem-solving and one left the meeting frustrated and angry.

"You can never solve problems with the same mindset that created them," said Albert Einstein. So let's analyze how crisis meetings work and what can be done to get out of this impasse.

The spiral of problems at crisis meetings

Let's start with an example: mistakes have occurred in the company with serious consequences. They led to an important customer terminating the collaboration. The management team meets for a crisis meeting. Those responsible for the various departments are present. The mood is extremely tense. The meeting runs according to the following scheme:

1. The search for the "buck"

First, the causes of the problem are sought. As with the “Schwarzer Peter” card game, each department blames the other department because nobody wants to take responsibility: “The production was sloppy and faulty. In addition, the deadlines were not met, ”claims customer service. “The sales department made promises that were not at all tenable and realistic,” says the production department. "The customer service responded unprofessionally and too late to customer complaints," complains the sales department.

2. "It wasn't me" and "I can't help it"

Each accused now gives his justifications. “We couldn't act any other way.” “We weren't informed.” “We had delivery problems due to illness.” “We received false facts.” Justifications of this kind lead to repeated blame. Everyone wants to pass on the supposed guilt.

3. Personal attack, disaffection and anger

In this charged situation, a factual discussion can easily slide onto a personal level. Now those responsible are being attacked personally: “You just don't have your department under control”. "You are a liar" and similar verbal abuse then come into play. The spiral of accusations and justifications is turning faster and faster and the discussions are getting hotter. This can lead to a lasting disruption of the relationships between the participants in the meeting. This will have a long-term effect on the working atmosphere and productivity. Problem solving is hardly possible in this atmosphere.

Don't let it come to that! How can managers take care not to get caught in such a spiral of problems? How do you prevent permanent conflicts between employees? How can you change the mindset? So how can you get from the problem to the solution?

Get out of the spiral of problems - towards problem solving

When the mood hit rock bottom, a manager who is still very new to the company took the floor. She could therefore not be drawn into the spiral of reproach and justification. She says, “I just listened well and learned a lot. I understood how our customer was lost. An unfortunate chain of circumstances and some misunderstandings seem to be the cause. But it is also a fact that we unfortunately cannot reverse this. But we can work together to find ways to avoid such problems in the future. We can work out ways to win back the customer. We're all in the same boat here and want this company to be successful. I would like to help find solutions together with you. "

With this request to speak, the meeting takes a different turn. The mood changes and new perspectives for conversation open up. Suddenly everyone wants to make a contribution to solving the problem.

From problem to solution

In order to move from thinking in terms of problems to thinking in terms of solutions, four steps must be observed:

1. Leave the problem behind

It is right to research the causes of the problem. Nevertheless, one should not give this point too much time in a crisis meeting. Look ahead! What has happened cannot be changed. But you can shape the future. You can learn from the mistakes made, because your company may have just gained important experience.

2. Change your attitude towards problems

"Problems are opportunities in work clothes," is a quote from Henry John Kaiser, the father of modern shipbuilding in the USA. Focus on the opportunity associated with this situation. Especially when something has gone wrong, everyone is open to changes and suggestions for improvement. You now have the opportunity to optimize the processes in the company, initiate innovations and thereby offer your customers better services.

3. Focus on a common goal

Determine together what an optimal solution to the problem might look like. Establish this vision in as much detail as possible. With open questions you come closer to the ideal problem solution:

  • How should the interfaces between the departments work?
  • Which communication channels do we need?
  • What can an early warning system look like?

4. Find ways to achieve your goal

  • Look for ways to achieve the common goal.
  • Collect the proposed solutions from everyone involved.
  • Sort proposed solutions and discuss the pros and cons.
  • Define small sections and make sure that everyone can contribute to solving the problem.
  • Keep everything in writing and binding. Everyone involved receives a copy of this action plan.

Thinking in terms of problem solutions does the following:

  • The mood remains positive.
  • Communication can take place on a factual level and does not burden personal relationships.
  • The team is led from problem thinking to solution thinking.
  • Creativity is encouraged.
  • The team spirit is strengthened.
  • You receive a comprehensible and controllable problem solution.
  • You will achieve a continuous improvement of your internal processes in the long term.

Problem solving - our tip for managers:

In order to find successful solutions faster at your team meetings, you should heed the following tip. In most meetings, 90% of the time problems are discussed and only 10% of the time, solutions. Turn the ratio around! Make sure that the problem is only 10% talked about and 90% about the solution.

Resolving team conflicts will be easier for you if you have internalized the basics of practical leadership.