As we work with groups trying to solve problems, there is a vital factor that is critical to their success: Preparation.
Individuals and teams that are adequately prepared to solve a problem will find it easier to accomplish the task in as short a time as possible. As Professor Max H. Bazerman, the Jesse Isidor Strauss Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School notes, “Too many negotiators think that the core action happens at the table in the final moments of the negotiation. The strategies you develop before you ever talk to the other side are far more important. Too many negotiators spend too little time preparing.”
Detailed preparation is vital for labor-management committees, teams, individuals, or other groups. This begins with a careful examination of the problem to be solved, along with an analysis of all available data about the cause of the situation. While this takes effort and time, it will help us understand what the problem is, and if a problem actually exists.
For example, we were working with a labor-management committee when one group raised a concern they believed was a problem. They believed the situation was urgent and the problem needed to be solved as quickly as possible.
They were not happy when we asked them to stop, be patient, and go back and gather data about the problem, when it was occurring, and the number of people involved. We were assured by the party who raised the issue that the problem was widespread, involved many individuals, and occurred at specific times.
We still insisted they gather information and bring it back to the next meeting. With specific information we could help them craft a solution to the problem at that time. Begrudgingly, they agreed.
At the next meeting, the parties came back and admitted that, upon further review, there really was not a problem. They had heard the grumbling of a few individuals which were based on rumor. Had the parties done adequate preparation in advance, the issue would never have been raised and time in the meeting would have been saved.
Part of preparation includes the use of problem-solving tools to gather and analyze data and produce useful information that will help in better understanding the nature of the problem. This will include separating the problem to be solved from the symptoms that have been observed. It is important we understand the symptoms, but spend our time working on the cause of the problem.
Symptoms are the effects we observe. Treating them is rarely effective in solving problems. We need to dig beneath the symptoms to find their root causes. Treating causes of problems enables us to solve them and make a difference.
For a simple example of this, think of weeds in a garden. One way to deal with weeds might be to cut them off at the surface of the ground. This would be treating the symptom – the appearance of the weeds – and would be completely ineffective as the weeds quickly grow back. To solve the problem, we need to get to the roots of the weeds and remove them.
Preparation throughout any problem-solving process is crucial to success for any committee, team, or individuals. Using a specific problem-solving plan that includes the use of tools to help analyze a situation and discover the root cause of problems helps create a successful process.
CALMC is experienced in working with groups to help them effectively prepare and solve problems. Contact us if your team can use our assistance as you work to identify and solve problems.