Tools to Fix Problems for a Collaborative Team
Problems happen – that's a fact of life. You can try and "head 'em off at the pass," or you can "nip it in the bud," or you can "just ignore it and it'll go away," but the fact remains – you have problems. The problem isn't so much the problem, as it is the fact that society tends to try and fix the symptoms instead of attacking the problem. Look at modern medicine as an example. You're sick, so you go see the doctor. The doctor walks in and asks you how you are doing. He then asks where it hurts, if you're congested, if you have difficulty breathing, etc. He then gives you medicine for the pain, for the cough and congestion, and says if you are not better in a week, to call his office. All the medicine he prescribed is for the symptoms. He never tried to find the true problem of how you got sick and why you got sick – he treated the symptoms that are causing you the irritation, so you will "feel" better.
The same is true in the business world. Leadership hears that morale is low and workers are grumbling, so they call the HR department and order an appreciation program to try and boost morale. Leadership never asked why the workers are grumbling. The reason for this symptomatic approach is it is fast, simple, and requires little investigation. The thought process goes back to the first sentence of this article – nip it, ignore it, and hope it will go away. The problem in the business world is many leaders are great at wall papering an organization hoping the glue will hold for five or six years, until they can move on to greener pastures and then the problems will belong to someone else. Fixing a problem can be time consuming and could require effort. At times it can be expensive, but in the long run you will have a stronger organization.
So the first step is to dig a little and find the root of the problem. If the employees are grumbling, then start asking questions and recording their answers until you find a pattern in their responses. This will not be the true problem, but it will point you to the source of the problem. Sometimes the grumbling is caused by something that may seem insignificant and easy to fix, while at other times, it could be the factory line is old, breaks down all the time, and demands exceed its capacity. That is when it gets expensive. But leadership will never know, unless they utilize the following tool in their tool box to investigate and learn what the problem is, and where fixes need to occur to eliminate said problem.
In the example above, the leader set out asking questions from the employees to learn why they were complaining, grumbling – generally unhappy at work. The leader was using the D.R.I.V.E. tool to isolate the problem, analyze, solve, and ensure it was truly fixed. This tool is simple and places the investigator in the driver's seat throughout the process. In fact, it's the ultimate problem solver for complex issues. In its process, leadership will be able to bring in multiple other tools to enhance each step in the D.R.I.V.E. process. But first, we need to set the ground work of each step.
"D" is rather obvious and stands for "Define." That simply means to find the root cause of the problem and realize the issue's scope – how big and widespread is the problem. Learn all the aspects of the situation, so you have all the necessary information for step two.
Step two is where you "Review" the situation as it stands at that moment. Create a histogram – write out its history and how it festered into today's ugly sore. Pinpoint all the problem areas and see what has been done to quell the situation.
You are now to the "hump day" in the process – you are half way home to extinguishing this blaze. You now begin to "Identify" improvements and solutions to said problem. You initiate needed changes on a "test scale," so that improvements take place and can be evaluated.
"V" is not for victory in this case, but actually stands for "Verification." It is time to verify the new implementation is taking effect, and creating the desired process improvements. If not, then tweak and repeat the test process.
Once the desired results are consistent, it is time for the final stage of D.R.I.V.E. "Execute" the improvements across the board, so the problem is solved. But once this occurs, a leader should not forget about it, because he will drop the ball creating a fumble and the problem will rear its ugly head again. Leadership must realize that it is in a human's DNA to revert back to the old way of doing things, instead of embracing change -- even it's for their own good. That is why so many people live on the "roller coaster" diet – they revert back to their old habits. That is why a review process should be implemented to ensure the fix becomes a part of the organization's culture and remains a "fix."
There are times when leadership realizes the problem is somewhere in the middle of a complex process – especially if it falls into a complicated production process that has many departments and hands involved. When this occurs, it can be helpful to have a visual tool that outlines all the steps in the process. It's time for Process Mapping. All the information gathered while trying to identify the problem can be created in a picture using Process Mapping that allows participants to visualize all the steps, so a solution can be found. Art skills are not needed, just the ability to draw circles, squares, lines and arrows – the absolute basics. The following diagram is a simple example that can be utilized to fit most situations in organizations.
With this chart, leadership can identify all the steps within the process, so the glitches in the system easily can be identified. The chart gives a visual of everyone involved and the steps utilized. This lays out factual information and eliminates the emotions involved by interested parties when digging for the facts.
When reviewing the information, there are times where a visual can break down the processes to its simplest stages -- better known as "cause and effect" -- what caused the problem to fester. The simplest diagram to use to locate the heart of the cause and effect is known as the fish bone or fish skeleton. In the following example, leadership was trying to pinpoint an issue in their jet engine design as to why it would not start.
As you can see, utilizing this simple chart allows you to outline the steps within the procedure and logically list the effects from each step. When this happens, it eliminates other processes that, at first, you think could be the problem. In this case, if there isn't power, then there isn't fuel flow, and if there isn't fuel flow then there isn't ignition and the engine will not start. This took investigators back to the electrical side of the house and they were able to pinpoint the switch.
This is where many leaders jump ahead of the game. This is where CEOs are either considered a genius or a failure. The problem at this stage of the game is most leaders will fire off one solution and call it a day. There may be more than one solution, so it's best to test them all and find the best solution. Also, as the old saying goes, "There's more than one way to skin a cat." Okay, no cats were harmed in this process, but the point is there will be a right way, a wrong way, and many ways to identify solutions.
One of the common methods for finding a solution to a problem is brainstorming. Leadership can get a group of people from the organization together, have a free-for-all attack on the identified problem, and write out all the various ideas given to solve the problem. Then, each solution is weighed and the pros and cons are listed. The ideas with the most pros are then re-evaluated, all possible negatives are listed, and the worst are tossed out. This continues until the ultimate solution is found.
Another approach that is gaining momentum, and is extremely effective within a collaboration environment, is simply called the design approach to problem solving. This approach is commonly used by innovative designers. It's the method they use to solve difficulties within their new designs – hence the name. This approach incorporates the mindset of solution first and problem second. It's the reverse method of problem solving. It identifies a new approach to a process, then deconstructs it for feasibility.
This process attempts to find the simplistic in all the complication, and its driving factors include functionality and an improvement in the process. The approach brings foreknowledge, instincts, hunches, logic, and systematic hypotheses to the table.
One of the main premises of this type of thinking is visual thinking. Think in pictures instead of words. Visualize and create visual illustrations. When looking at models, critique the processes, instead of criticizing them.
The other force behind this approach is creating empathy for the customer, department, or workers having the problem. This creates drive and a will-force to think creatively and truly seek a unique, streamlined, and an effective solution to the issue.
It's now time to evaluate the various test models and weigh their pros and cons. This can be difficult if more than one solution seems to be working well. Which one do you choose? Which is the best solution? Sometimes it feels as if you are comparing apples to apples, instead of apples to oranges, because the solutions are bringing about the desired results and both work well and cost about the same. They are too close, so the choice is difficult, but critical to the organization. This is when a tool in the tool box called Pairwise Comparison is needed.
This tool makes difficult choices simple and helps leaders to choose the most effective solution. It also can help a leader set priorities where there are clashing requirements or interests on available resources.
The chart is simple to use.
First list all the options that need comparison and assign each a letter – A, B, C, etc.
Then mark all the options as headings for both rows and columns on the chart.
The next is where the decision process begins. Within each blank square on the chart, compare the option in the row versus the column option. You must decide which option is the most important.
Write down the letter of the best option in the block, and then score the difference in the importance between the two options. Use the numbering system of zero through five. Zero being no difference and five being 100 percent different. (Each corresponding number 1-5 equals 20 percent – 1=20 percent, 2=40 percent and so on…)
Add the values for each of the options, and do not let logic overrule common sense when looking at the results. But what this tool does, is it gives you a way to compare processes and evaluate them.
Here's an example where a leader is trying to decide between five different candidates for a mentoring program.
Once the totals are calculated in the example, the leader easily can see the Harvard grad has 5 points; the local candidate 4 points; the entrepreneur 14; and the manager's son ended up with 0. The easy winner is the entrepreneur.
This tool places tough decisions into a numerical value and helps the leaders clarify their thoughts. As stated earlier, it's a great tool but that is what it is – a tool. Do not let common sense be overruled by a number from the chart.
All solutions have been tested, evaluated, and the best alternative has been selected, so now it is time to execute the decision. Hopefully, people within the organization were used in the testing of alternatives and their opinions, suggestions, ideas, and concerns were heard, addressed and acknowledged. This allows for easier buy-in so that the execution will go smoothly and be well received. Change is scary and it is normal for there to be resistance, but if a collaborative type of atmosphere has been utilized, then fears have been addressed, resistance has been squelched through listening, empathy, and two-way communication, so execution should not be a real issue, but a simple process.
The final step that needs to be handled in the execution is the establishing of a continuous two-way communication system, so the new process can be monitored and its continued success ensured.
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