|What’s the problem?|
The creators of the method, Michael Doyle and David Straus, distilled all their best advice about running meetings in How To Make Meetings Work (a book I highly recommend in its entirety; here I’m channeling just the chapter on solving problems). In a nutshell: problem definition is the one important thing you must do to assure you solve the right problem.
- Clarify that problems aren’t ‘bad’. They’re a fact of life. Change occurs and change requires responses. Don’t be afraid of problems, don’t ignore them and don’t try to gussy them up by calling them something else. One technique is the “best, worst and most probable’ scenario”. When folks are resistant to addressing a problem, ask them what’s the best, worst and most probable thing that will happen as a result of solving/not solving the issue. Often folks will not be able to think of any terrible consequences if they try to resolve the issue, and then will become more willing to get the ball rolling.
- Legitimize problem perceptions. Ask everyone to state their personal view. Don’t judge at this point. If there is a lot of dissonance, try discussing how folks feel about their perception of the problem. If Joe says “There’s a problem with productivity” Sam may feel threatened that he’s going to have to work longer hours. If Joe understands how Sam feels, he can rephrase the problem. Once everyone has stated their viewpoint folks can begin to see the commonalities, or lack thereof.
- Rephrase the Problem. In the example above, let’s say Joe instead asks
the group to figure out “ways to make people’s jobs easier.” He’s likely to get a lot more suggestions. Similarly “How can we increase sales?” is very different than “In what ways can we provide more benefit to the consumer?” They are phrased from different perspectives. Also, the latter phrasing suggests there are a multitude of possibilities, rather than one right answer. Words carry meaning and play a major role in how we perceive a problem.
- Get a working definition of your problem. Once you’ve clarified perceptions the next step is to say what it is and what it isn’t. If your car stalls, you can’t jump to the conclusion it’s an engine problem. Similarly, if you start working on “Where to build a new school” you’ll rule out possibilities you might have explored if you’d defined the problem as “Where to find new classroom space.” Building excludes other possibilities like renting or converting existing space. You don’t want to narrow the problem prematurely.
- Make the problem engaging. “Increasing sales” is boring. “How can we wow our customers?” is challenging. “How to create a Facebook page?” is boring. “How can we engage meaningfully with our constituents?” is exciting. Plus, it doesn’t close off other solutions (maybe Facebook is not the only answer). If it’s fun, it’s like a game; folks will want to play.