Problem Focused Team? Ask Better Questions

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Scientists, engineers, architects and your car mechanic have always been successful at looking at problems.

In fact it’s their job to eliminate problems from their project so that it will stand the test of time. In the absence of this process, many of our buildings, bridges, IT systems and cars would be susceptible to failure and a risk to human life.

For teams, forget the engineer’s model.

So what is wrong with the rest of us humans following the problem-focused path of the engineer? Two things: a) in human systems, versus engineering systems, rigorous analysis of the problem slows us down and prevents us from making decisions to move forward; b) while the engineer has clear goals (this is the river and this is the bridge we will build to get across it), most teams that focus on problems will avoid thinking about goals and solutions. As a result, we greatly reduce the decision-making that is required to make progress.

Suppose we don’t explore the problem!

Yes, I hear you saying, but if we don’t explore the problem in the human system how will we know we have made the right decision? Well, how do you define the right decision? The engineer can identify the right decision because the system they are designing usually has a structure of some kind. Human systems, however, rely on a vast number of variables in behavior and attitude. Waiting for the “right” answer prevents us from seeing what is often the obvious solution.

Now think of an organization; imagine the vast number of problems – simple and complex, strategic and tactical – that it faces every day. Because the organization has no way to control the outside world, external change creates ongoing internal complexity. Infinitely variable human behaviors and attitudes create internal and external friction. It is easy to see why people obsess about the problems around them. However, many of the problems are constructs created in the moment to express the difficulty in moving forward and making decisions. It seems easier to explore the “why” than to quickly assess the issues, explore change resources and opportunities, make decisions, and move forward. In today’s economy, problem focus and indecisiveness is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

This is not to say that organizations do not need evidence to support decisions. They do, especially in an increasingly complex world. But in human interactions and behavior, the wrong kind of fact-finding increases the likelihood of indecisiveness and poor choices because there are too many variables to consider.

The solution to creating solutions faster, better, more creatively? 

Ask better questions!

More on this in my book, Fry the Monkeys. Create a Solution! If you happen to have a copy and would like your meetings to go better try, Monkey-Free Meetings!


About Alan Kay

Alan Kay. Speeding up Change - Strategy. Customer & Stakeholder Co-creation. Solution Focus. Author & Speaker. Book: Fry the Monkeys - Create a Solution.

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