A big problem can cripple a business. It can stop it from ever getting to where you want it to be and can eventually bring it down. The worst thing you can do is hesitate and procrastinate and sit on the thing because you don’t know how to solve it.
Just because you’re struggling to find a working solution doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Almost certainly, there will be a solution because I very much doubt that your problem is a first and that someone, somewhere hasn’t already solved it – it’s just a matter of finding it.
Maybe, you’re not converting prospects to customers like you used to or your staff turnover is too high or too many mistakes are happening or you want to expand your business but are too busy fire fighting to be able to even think how you’re going to do it.
Although it can be lonely at the top, it doesn’t always have to be this way and if you are struggling with a big problem then stop trying to solve it on your own – get help and create a core team.
If you own a micro business then talk to other business owners, ex colleagues, friends and, depending on the problem, even customers you have a strong relationship with. You could try and get a group of non-competing business owners together, meet up and talk through each other’s problems.
Ideally, what you need is a team of people who have first-hand experience of the actual problem. If you own a larger business then these people will be amongst your own staff. These guys are the ones best placed to know why prospects aren’t converting or why their peers are unhappy and leaving.
I’ll focus on creating a team from your pool of employees.
Bring The Right Team Together
Bring together a team of people from across your business and make sure it’s ‘balanced’. What I mean by ‘balanced’ is a team that comprises people from different areas of the business and from different levels. That way the input from the team will be more balanced and less skewed.
For example, if you simply had all senior managers, then you may end up with an inaccurate view that the problem lies with people residing at levels below them. If you had people all from lower levels then don’t be surprised if the problem lies with managers. And if you have people mostly from one area of the business like sales, then it’ll probably be marketing’s fault.
You want a team that’s not too small to be ineffective but not too big to be unwieldy. Around 7 or 9 is good and no more than say a dozen.
Make it clear that you expect everyone to contribute and that hierarchy of reporting is gone so no one should be afraid to say what they think. Ideally, you shouldn’t be a part of the team. It’s one thing to invite honesty, it’s quite another to expect them to not hesitate in telling you you’re wrong.
In these situations it makes a lot of sense to bring in an external facilitator. Give this person a brief of the problem and the outcomes you’re expecting and let them run the meetings.
An external facilitator doesn’t need to know about your industry or have any expert knowledge in what you do. In fact, it can be better if they don’t because they’ll be the ones who might come up with an idea that others who know the subject well wouldn’t have thought of – a fresh pair of eyes.
What’s important is that the facilitator is good at getting everyone talking, making sure that people aren’t enforcing their authority on the team and that others aren’t too intimidated or shy to speak their mind. This person will also be the one to bring the ideas together, help build a consensus, reach conclusions and report back to you.
Prior to the meeting the team should be briefed on the problem and be given some guidance as to areas they need to focus and contribute on and the kind of outcome you’re looking for.
Create a Framework
It’s a good idea to create a framework for people to work within – a structure that describes how progress will be made. You could set rules that the team needs to follow and boundaries to stay within.
Present a framework that shows how the meeting will progress – what the stages will be. For example,
- Everyone being clear as to what the problem is that needs to be solved.
- Reasons (or causes) for the problem will be identified.
- Possible solutions (or options) will be found that would eliminate the causes.
- Conditions for success will be outlined. For that to succeed, this needs to be in place or happen.
- Barriers to success will be highlighted. This could prevent that option from working.
- The options ordered according to chance of success. The best one being, it would solve the problem, conditions are in place or could easily be put in place and the barriers are low and manageable. The worst one would be the option that is the hardest to set up the right conditions and which has the highest barriers.
Set rules as to how long can be spent of a particular part of the subject or how ideas will be presented and debated. Set boundaries such as time and subject matter to keep the process flowing and the team members focused.
A tried and trusted method I use when facilitating such meetings is to use sticky notes. Basically, present the problem and have each member of the team draw or write one thought on each sticky note. For example, if you were at the stage of exploring reasons for the problem each note would have one reason shown on it.
When each person has hopefully drawn/written several ideas, the next stage (which is usually met with groans but which they go on to enjoy) is to have each person stand up in front of the group, place a sticky note on the wall and explain it. They then repeat until all the notes are on the wall. Questions can be asked for clarification but no debate about the merits of the idea. (Remember that rule.)
Once every member of the team has stood up and done the same you should have a wall covered in little sticky notes. The next stage is to group the notes into common themes. Everyone in the team needs to get up there at the same time and, as a group, chat and move the notes around until everyone agrees with the grouping.
Now you have common reasons for the problem that can then be discussed as a group and if necessary, after the discussion you can repeat the sticky note exercise with team members presenting solutions to the reasons and so on according to the steps above.
You may finally end up with one resounding winner and solution or you may have a number of solutions, which together will resolve the problem or at least dramatically reduce the number of occurrences. For example, reducing staff turnover could be a combination of better training, a new organisation structure that present better career opportunities and more effective monitoring and supervisions that better reveal those that do as little as possible, disrupt or bully their peers and who you want to manage out as quickly as you can.
The beauty of this method is that every member of the team has a chance to speak and say what he or she thinks. Stronger, more extrovert personalities don’t drown out the shy and quiet ones.
A problem can be large enough that identifying the reasons for the problem was the purpose of the first meeting. The core team would then take the solutions back the people they worked with and talk them through. This way a stronger consensus of the way forward or a brilliant new idea can result. The next meeting would cover the next stage of the process and so on.
Doing this has the added benefit of bringing everyone together. Everyone has a chance to voice an opinion and agree (or not, in which they should come forward with an alternative idea) to the solutions being presented and also know that you are trying to resolve the problem.
I’ve facilitated a number of these meetings and have found that…
- There is always a solution or small group of solutions to be found;
- Everyone really enjoys the opportunity to have a say;
- The overall experience is a good one – it can motivate and inspire;
- People, even outside the core team get behind the findings and the way forward.
Finding solutions to big problems in this way will bring the right people together, the people you want to keep, nuture and grow. Your people will already be bought into the way forward because they were instrumental in making it happen. They will feel empowered and responsible for making it work as well as it can.
It is the best way to get the best result and it will always bring better results than a solution that has been thought up in isolation and then dictated down the chain.
Big problems can cripple a business. They need to be solved and solved effectively and the results need to make a massive difference to the future success of the business.
If you have a big problem in your business follow this guidance and create a core team to find a workable solution. Get a facilitator and if you don’t know one then contact me and let’s discuss how I can help you overcome your problems and get your business working efficiently and effectively.
You can’t Do Everything – Outsource