A 3-Step Leadership Guide to Creating a Culture of Problem-Solvers As leaders, how can we solve company problems effectively? We often have the urge to fix everything quickly, but is this system of problem-solving really sustainable?
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As a growth advisor, I work with leaders looking to grow and scale their businesses. One of the biggest issues I found preventing companies from scaling was the fact that all the problem-solving was left up to the leader. If you took the leader out of the equation, it seemed that the team members lacked the agency to solve the problems on their own. And on top of that, some of the leaders often lacked the confidence in trusting their teams to make decisions.
So, what is the million-dollar answer to fixing this problem you ask? Well, it is not simple, but it certainly is worth the effort. If you want your company to scale and grow, you need to create high-functioning teams. And in order to do that, companies need to build a culture of problem-solvers. As a leader, it is your responsibility to create a space where your team members are not afraid to speak up, feel empowered and know what is expected of them. It is only then that you can effectively scale and grow your company.
Ready to make a change in your company's culture? Here are three key lessons I've learned to create a winning culture of problem-solvers:
Related: 7 Ways to Help Your Employees Become Better Problem-Solvers
1. Encourage teams to talk about problems and bring them to the surface
Problems usually have a negative connotation associated with them. Nobody wants to be labeled as the bearer of bad news. This undesirable association is further supported by a study conducted by the New York University School of Business. According to the researchers, employees in the study were often reluctant to share information that could be interpreted as threatening or bad for the company.
When people are unwilling to share information, it is usually because they don't feel it is a safe space to do so. They fear that they will be perceived negatively by the team and/or become worried that it might compromise their employment status. As a result, people who associate sharing problems with consequences tend to hide information so as not to get blamed or publicly shamed. This causes important organizational issues to get buried and/or not get properly addressed at all.
When people in your company don't feel psychologically safe speaking up in the workplace, it is inevitably the leader's fault. Therefore, leaders must take pride and care in creating a work culture where team members are not afraid to speak up. When the people you work with are able to express work-related concerns freely and openly, something amazing happens: Teams become functional, team members trust one another, and everyone becomes more engaged in performing their role in the company.
I was fortunate to recognize the importance of creating a "speak-up culture" early on. Rather than getting mad at people I work with for bringing up problems, I reward them. I make it known that each problem they share becomes an opportunity for us to be better and do better work. As a result, issues are brought up to the surface and are addressed before they become much bigger issues.
Related: 5 Keys to Effective Problem-Solving When You're Facing a Complex Operational Challenge
2. Empowering people to solve problems, no matter how small or big they might be
As leaders, we usually focus our efforts on high-level problems and steering our company in the right direction. According to McKinsey and Company, making decisions takes as much as approximately 70% of a C-suite executive's time. When we scale and grow, leaders naturally become less involved in problems that occur in day-to-day business operations. Despite these problems being smaller in the grand scheme of things, it is important to still address them. So, how can we rely on our team members to be accountable for these problems?
Part of creating a company culture of problem-solvers is by empowering people to be problem-solvers. Sharing problems is not enough, and leaders can't expect their team to solve issues without the tools to be successful at their job. Therefore, leaders must be available to empower people closest to these problems to be accountable for finding solutions. In fact, a recent survey found that problems solved by workers closest to the problems identified were better, faster and more efficiently executed when they received adequate coaching from their leaders. Truly, leaders should invest in empowering teams to solve problems.
The more I work with people to run my company, the more I realize that I do not have all the answers. I rely on partners and people to provide expertise in areas of the company that they are uniquely good at. What I can do as a leader, however, is to empower my team to make the call while acting as their coach. Therefore, I am still involved, but in a capacity where they can come to me for advice. With this shift in dynamic, the people I work with take more ownership of the job and the problems closely related to them.
Related: A Step-By-Step Approach to Get Your Staff to Bring You Solutions, Not Problems
3. Create a structured approach to solving complex issues
As human beings, we naturally rely on our intuition to resolve problems quickly. The same desire applies in the workplace. While it allows us to get instant results, quick fixes never fully address the root causes of the problem. How can we, as leaders, ensure our organizations are doing more than temporarily alleviating company problems?
While it is true that leaders are unable to address every single issue, we do have the ability to manage and control our processes. Creating structured problem-solving processes makes it easier for companies to address and solve complex business issues that arise. It provides us with a guided framework of what to do and consider so that we are not missing any important steps when solving bigger issues. Through structured problem-solving processes, organizations can better understand the problem at hand, identify which components of the problem should be focused on and determine what analytic technique will help them best solve the problem at hand. Most importantly, following problem-solving processes ensures relevant perspectives are included in the decision-making for a truly holistic and sustainable solution.
I rely on processes as a way to discipline myself and my team members from taking shortcuts. The results? Solving complex problems becomes less overwhelming, team members are asking the right questions, and people are more engaged and collaborative. Additionally, the solutions we come up with fully and effectively address the problem at hand, saving us time and money. If you don't have a structured process for solving problems yet, don't worry. There are many problem-solving structure examples and resources available for your team.
Related: The Importance of Problem Solving When Building a Business
A culture of problem-solvers can only be achieved if it is driven by the company leader. So, leaders must seriously put in the time and effort when implementing such a cause. When creating a culture of problem-solvers, it is important for leaders to encourage their teams to discuss problems, empower their people to make decisions and implement processes that address complex issues. Leaders must lead by example to ensure efforts are ingrained seamlessly in the company. Truly, when companies create a culture of problem-solvers, addressing problems becomes more rewarding, and solutions are more sustainable.