To Improve Engagement, Eliminate Your Problem Analysis Virus.

Much good work is being done to create organizations that have engaged leadership, employees, and customers through non-hierarchical (even holacratic*) approaches. Increasingly driven by creativity and self-governing processes, these businesses stand out in intensely competitive markets or sectors.

Meanwhile, in some organizations – even those with an eye on the engagement approach – the problem analysis approach lives on. After all, civilization was built on solving problems, wasn’t it?!

Virus problem monkey

The problem virus monkey

We have been indoctrinated to believe that you must know the cause before you can do something about the problem – Insoo Kim Berg

If we want more enlightened leadership, employee engagement, non-hierarchical structures, creativity, etc., there’s one more thing to put on the forefront of the organization’s agenda – developing a solutions culture. The goal is to move away from, or at least reframe, the people who are experts in defining the problem, fascinating though they may be.

Problem focused experts in your organization are a virus.

Here’s an example to illustrate the virus at work – think about global climate change. The glaciers are melting. Scientists have captured, examined and analyzed the data they need to help explain the root of the problem and its consequences. These scientific experts have also shared their insight into the problem with the general public, we’re well aware of what’s happening. Yet, with all that information, understanding and concern, we are not making much progress. We’re driving the scientists crazy. Why? Because we’re not clear on what we want collectively. The solution to global warming, for some, is to simply reduce our carbon emissions. Others suggest the solution is to increase forest density or put a stop to our consumption mania. Of course, there are others who simply deny the existence of the problem – their solution is to extract more oil faster so they can pay for proof that the scientists are wrong. And so on…

So, you’ve figured out the problem. Don’t build the wrong solution.

The problem focused folks came up with green energy – wind farms, solar power generation – but that’s proven to be an expensive mistake.

Now that you’ve analyzed the problem, assume that the perfect solution will become obvious.

Actually, no. Solutions built on problems are almost always less than optimal. In the problem solving quest, problem analysis is not the issue – it’s assuming that the situation is dire because the experts in the defining problem must be right. They may well be right, but so what?! That’s what slows down progress, especially in human systems. The problem experts:

  • Take credit for defining the problem and force solutions that work exclusively for them
  • Prevent listening and blame others for the situation
  • View people with alternative solutions as less competent than themselves
  • Undermine strategic efforts at engaged leadership and employee motivation and customer focus

What’s the option to the problem virus? And why is a Solutions Culture preferable?

1. Think this way all the time, namely: a) Ask ‘what’s working?’ b) Ask ‘what do we want to be better/different in the future?’ c) Pick some small visible action steps towards that future (see yourself learning).

2. Be clear, this is NOT superficial positive thinking. It’s purposeful thinking about what you want instead of the problem.

3. By all means do the problem analysis. Take it seriously, not literally. Think of it as, a) clarification of what you don’t want to happen and, b) a light to help guide you to decide on what you want to do instead.

4. The most stubborn problem experts will protest. They’ve got a lot to give up, so don’t expect miracles. They will learn something new, but not at the same pace as those building solutions.

5. Avoid worrying if what we want is wrong. It’s more useful to fail-forward and learn early than to chew up significant time and resources with analytics that can be equally wrong. There’s plenty of thinking on the value of making mistakes.

The path to success is paved with mistakes. Great mistake-makers win. Lousy mistake-makers lose. – Dan Rockwell

6. Get unstuck and move forward towards even greater organizational engagement.



So, in building the engaged organization, how do you show the problem virus out the door?