One of the most common complaints I hear from leaders is that they wish their team could come up with their own solutions instead of coming to them every time.
When I ask what their response is to a team member who comes to them with a problem, it is usually something like:
“I tell them what I think they should do.”
And therein lies the root of the problem. If you want your team to think for themselves, you need to encourage them to do so instead of doing all the thinking for them.
When all you do is solve people’s problems for them, you create a pattern where they will always come to you. And the unintended consequence of that is, your team may start doubting their own problem solving ability and so come to you even more.
I love the feedforward technique as a quick and easy way to help people find their own solutions.
1. Elicit a positive story from the past
Start by asking your team member to tell you a story about a positive experience with a challenge they overcame, something that they are very proud of.
It can be about anything at all and does not have to relate to the challenge they have now. In fact it might produce a better result if it doesn’t.
Probe into the story, so that you both have a good understanding of why the experience was positive. Ask questions like:
What made it positive?
What were you feeling?
What was the outcome?
What was in place that meant you could be successful?
I can pretty much put money on the fact they will start to talk about all the negative aspects of their story, but be firm, acknowledge the negative and gently but firmly get them back to the positive.
For example, “I can hear how frustrated you were that you weren’t told sooner but tell me more about all the things that went well.”
3. Ask: What conditions were in place that made it a positive experience?
4. Put their connection machine to work
The brain is a connection machine that loves finding patterns and solving problems, so if you can get someone into a positive frame of mind (as per above) and set their mind to a connection challenge (as per below), great things will happen.
To get the connection machine going remind the team member of the challenge they are facing now and then ask:
Stick to the script on this one. The cleaner the question the better the connections.
Just ask the question above and then wait.
Trust that their brain is as intelligent as yours and they will come up with the solution that works best for them. Embrace the silence, keep your gaze softly on the person and give them the space to think.
After hearing the answer, you may want to probe further to help your team member get clear about anything they need to do to modify their solution to make it even better. Try asking something like:
If you see any obvious problems with the approach or you have some information that might be useful this is the time to provide it. Otherwise as hard as it is, resist the urge to share your advice.
The ’I’ve done it before, I can do it again’ attitude this exercise sparks, catapults people forward to deal with their situation in a creative and energising way, and the cool thing is that this can be done in less than 15 minutes.
Give it a go and let me know how it goes – remember you can keep a cheat sheet of the steps out of sight of the camera.