Solving Problems in a Team Setting

May 24, 2022 Maria Casanova

Put two people in a room and they will eventually disagree. It's human nature.

This scenario can be even more problematic in a team setting where you have lots of intelligent, ambitious people who are passionate about a high stakes project. Take this group of intelligent people and ask them to collaborate, plan, and execute a new strategy. They may create a wonderful plan—but then something changes, creating new challenges.

When this happens, people tend to evaluate the new situation through their past experiences. They use their existing beliefs to decide if the new initiative is on the right or wrong track. They may say or think things such as “This is what we are supposed to do.”

This kind of thinking has its place. Experience can be a valuable teacher. The trouble is, we want a new situation to fit our preconceptions—we want to fix the challenge in this place and time. But the reality is that we are facing something new. Our existing perspective might very well be limited, which hamstrings our ability to respond.

So what can we do to solve problems in a team setting?

Expect Challenges

Problems often happen unexpectedly—and when they do happen, people are often uncomfortable. As leaders, we have the opportunity to expand our mindset to recognize the inevitability of challenges and embrace them when they happen. Accepting the reality of a problem and choosing to embrace it is often a starting point for innovation, creativity, and progress toward finding a solution.

Here’s another benefit. When we determine that challenges are inevitable, they won't carry the same emotional weight as before. Teams that expect challenges and face them together have a head start on solving any problem that comes along.

Become Comfortable with Change

The aviation industry is a great example of how complexity and unexpected challenges can be managed. Pilots must constantly adjust their routes—in fact, they spend most of their time modifying flight plans. They may have to change a route, increase or decrease altitude, or circle around an airport. They know there is going to be disruption. They expect it. They also know they will eventually land the plane. High performing teams act similarly. They expect that strategies will change. They keep the destination in sight, recognizing that reaching it is more important than how they get there.

As a leader, one powerful question that’s important to consider is How does my team manage problems? Having clarity on how your team manages problems is more important than any one problem itself. Leadership is critical here. Conveying to your team that challenges are okay is one of the most effective approaches for inspiring critical thinking and problem solving. Problems are to be expected. You can show this by asking questions such as How do we address the short-term issues of this problem? What do we need to do now? How do we solve for the immediate consequences?

Identify Root Causes

Once your team has overcome a challenge, the next critical step is to determine what caused it. Problems typically have multiple causes. Some people may feel defensive if the glitch originated in their department. None of us wants to be the cause of a problem. But when we view challenges as inevitable, there’s no need for finger pointing.

Empower your team to analyze the root causes behind the challenge. When leaders support their team in adopting a new mindset for problems (e.g., everyone expects problems to happen), it’s safe to discuss it.

One effective strategy for leaders is to tackle the immediate consequences of a problem and the root cause separately. Encourage your team to be curious and disciplined in their discovery of the root cause of a problem so it can be addressed. By doing so, they can avoid unnecessary problems in the future.

Some problems can’t be fixed. For example, I have done a lot of work in West Africa. I had one colleague who was always late to meetings. When I asked him why, he told me the infrastructure didn't exist for him to get to the office in a reliable way. That problem, like any problem, is an invitation to do more and better. It certainly fostered a better understanding on my part.

Reframe Your Problems

If you want to be more comfortable discussing problems, consider ways you could reframe them. This starts with seeing problem solving as an achievable challenge, being open to experimentation, and engaging with your people. As a leader, you have an extraordinary opportunity to impact how others manage problems by encouraging them to embrace problems as opportunities.

When people experience emotional safety when discussing their problems, they are better able to speak up if something goes wrong. Strong leaders praise their people for working through a problem. They remind their team that taking a risk is acceptable—in fact, many groundbreaking products have been the result of multiple failures.

Who knows what breakthrough the challenge you are facing may produce!

About the Author

Maria Casanova

Maria Casanova is a Coaching Solutions Architect and Executive Coach for Blanchard® with over ten years of experience in executive coaching. Maria collaborates with senior executives and HR business partners across multiple disciplines to design organizational and human capital investment strategies that result in tangible business outcomes. Maria holds a BBA from Northwood University and is certified as a Global Facilitator and Professional Negotiator.

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