Tuesday, August 10, 2010

5 Ways to Solve Problems at Work

Someone stole my cab! Here's the story: A few weeks ago I was in San Antonio speaking at a dinner meeting and was booked for a FOX TV segment the following morning early at 7:00 am. Not only was it morning rush hour but it was raining and I planned on taking a cab. I called for a taxi from my hotel room and when I got down to the hotel lobby someone rushed past me and stole my cab! Okay so I freaked out a bit (or like I tell you, I had an "exaggerated response"). I called another cab and luckily got a driver who took me the back roads to the TV station.

In our personal lives we are often used to solving problems on our own - or we can solve them easily with an informal network. But at work, problem solving often requires collaboration. A Japanese proverb states, "None of us are as smart as all of us." People in the Smart Zone embrace the fact that a work team has the capability to solve problems and be as smart as all of us.

Problems in the work place come in all shapes and sizes. There is no magic formula for solving every problem we encounter. Adapting our problem solving process to fit the problem at hand requires both cognitive and emotional skills. Here are 5 tips for problem solving in the Smart Zone:
  1. A Point on Perception. Is there really a problem and if so, is it solvable? For example, if your problem is that the sky is blue, then you will need to rethink the problem. Jochen Zeitz who is CEO of the shoemaker Puma says, "Design usually starts with 'There is no way' and then we say, 'Okay, how can we make this work?'"

  2. Define the Problem in a One-Sentence Statement. This sounds easy but is really quite difficult. By having a well-defined problem it makes the solved state more measurable. Charles Kettering, co-holder of more than 140 patents and inventor of such things as the spark plug, leaded gasoline and Freon for refrigerators and air conditioners, once said, "A problem well stated is a problem half solved."

  3. Focus on the Solved State. Ask yourself and your team these questions:
    a. How will we know when the problem has been solved?
    b. What does the solved state look and feel like?
    c. What is tangible evidence that the problem is solved?
    Click here for an article I wrote recently about problem solving between a staff and board of directors.

  4. Use a System That Works for Your Group. There are several problem solving techniques such as brainstorming, root cause analysis, the drill down technique, etc. The appreciation technique is a powerful way to extract the maximum amount of information from a fact. First you start with a fact and then ask the question, "So what?"

    Example: Our warehouse does not have the required part in stock.
    So what?
    The part will need to be ordered from a vendor.
    So what?
    It will take more time to get the needed part.
    So what?
    Our customer will need to be notified of the delay.

    In the future, we need a process for the warehouse to order parts in advance so parts will not be out of stock when needed.

    While the same conclusion still could have been determined without a formal technique it still provides a framework for extracting information quickly and reliably.

  5. Develop an Accountability Plan. Many problem solving sessions end when the solution is determined. But wait! Next, assign specific action items to people with a time frame for completion. Design a way to hold those responsible for the solution accountable for the results.

Just for fun, watch this video from the show Modern Family on how Cameron and Mitchell collaborated on solving a problem. Modern Family makes me laugh and I thought you just might too.

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