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The problem of problem solving!

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”Theodore Rubin

There will always be problems. If we focus on the fact that there are problems, then that in itself can be an unhelpful way of looking at things, and can hinder us from solving the issues that are part of life.

This week, we explore the common issue in healthcare teams, where managers feel like they are constantly solving the problems of others!

Let’s be honest…

  • Do you get frustrated when your office feels like a revolving door (or resolving-door!) of your team’s problems?
  • Do you feel a bit annoyed when staff seem to think that you are there to deal with every issue that arises?
  • Are you often putting out fires (figuratively speaking), managing conflicts in the team, helping others do their jobs?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you may have a problem!

What’s going on here?

People ask us to solve a problem. We solve it. We do it again. And again, and again.

Now some of you may also be saying – I tell them what to do and I KEEP getting asked the same questions. It just shows that I have to solve everything for them.

Well, what it shows in these cases, is that people are not learning. People learn less when they are told what to do, than when they teach themselves.

People are more likely to learn and retain their learning if they actually think it through themselves, and find their own way through. And no, I am not suggesting to take away policies, to give up protocols, and to let them do whatever they want! No, I am NOT suggesting that!

There are many reasons that managers get caught in the trap of constantly solving their employees’ problems. Consider these questions…

  • Do you like that people want you to help? Many people in healthcare have this inherent trait, which is helpful in delivering services to others, yet can lead to an increasing following that seeks you out to fix things!
  • Do you like things done a certain way? That’s great for many situations leading others yet it can also mean that sometimes it’s hard to let go.
  • Are you pressed for time and believe solving your team’s problems takes less time than letting them figure it out themselves? Then your focus on time might be creating a bias that in time will add time.
  • Do you have team members who lack skills, knowledge or experience, so you think that they need you to solve their problems? Then maybe helping them is hindering their own development, no matter how well intentioned.
  • Are you worried that some people won’t complete tasks if you don’t get involved? Maybe, just maybe getting involved frequently is stifling their potential.

It’s natural that employees seek guidance or reassurance from their managers when making decisions or solving issues. Where it may become a problem is when the team expects the manager to provide all answers, or when the manager prefers to control all issues. Or when it simply becomes a habit on both parts.

There are potential problems with constantly problem solving for others!

  • Staff may come to rely on the manager, reducing their own critical thinking skills. When staff aren’t encouraged to explore their own solutions, the business may miss out on creative ideas that save time and money.
  • Employees may feel that their manager doesn’t trust or value their input if a leader constantly wants to solve issues.
  • Customers/clients  could feel frustrated with delays in assistance where the manager always needs to be consulted.
  • Staff who are not challenged to think through problems can miss opportunities to learn and grow new skills.

 “It is in the process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning.” -M. Scott Peck

Because there are always problems in life. Through tackling challenges we learn, develop resilience, get creative, feel satisfaction and build relationships. As we increase our confidence in solving issues, we feel comfortable tackling bigger obstacles. 

So don’t we as healthcare leaders owe it to our teams to back off a little and let them problem solve?Yes, there are some obstacles to overcome and some habits to break. And there are other considerations as well –  we’ll still need to be involved in some cases, still need to set expectations, still need clear boundaries and policies.

What’s the point of changing how we do things?

Employee benefits means that potentially they will…

  • Develop critical thinking skills for future problem solving.
  • Feel you value and trust their judgment, increasing their motivation and confidence.
  • Become less reliant on you discussing every question or challenge that they have.
  • Better retain learning as they think things through.
  • Take ownership of issues because they are involved and talking about the solution.
  • Become faster at problem solving, as they are empowered, learning and growing in confidence.

No, I didn’t forget the benefits to you as a manager!

  • You will save time in the long run, as the revolving door lessens. When people come to you with issues, they come with solutions, not a blank face and no answers.
  • You will have a more productive team – because they are learning, becoming more efficient, effective and decisive.

I could break this down further, yet really – saving time and having a more productive team is probably a fabulous outcome!

What needs to happen, to make this happen?

We replace our problem-solving default and coach. Not telling people what to do, or what you would do in the guise of coaching. I mean truly coach.

1. Habits

Changing habits takes time. And it’s really through replacing one habit with another, that habits are broken. So we change habits.

To do this, I suggest to start with one focus. And I recommend this: the next time someone wants you to solve something for them, before you answer, ask – “What do you think?”

From this point, rather than giving them the solution, a manager encourages individuals to understand the issue and come up with possible solutions. The manager does this by asking some thought provoking questions. Over time, the employee will develop their skills and confidence and the manager will reclaim time and trust in delegation.

2. Supporting and guiding without taking over

This is about enabling your employees to think for themselves, and all the benefits that flow from that. So it’s trusting that it will be ok (we can risk manage!) And taking the pressure off ourselves at the same time – we don’t have to have all the answers and things don’t always need to be done our way. Let your team surprise you with their ideas and perspectives. 

If you have a team who have relied on your expertise and precise direction for some time, or if you have a team who are inexperienced, then you may need to explain your new approach. 

You may also need to provide some problem solving or decision making training in some cases. 

And if you are worried that people will make disastrous decisions, all you need to do is set expectations. Explain that you still want them to run certain things by you. They just need to come with some suggested solutions you can work through together.

Remember, you are the first step in reducing the burden of problem-solving reliance in your team. You’ve got this! Over time, your employees will need less prompting and will take initiative, coming to you with solutions and action plans, or even solving problems and telling you about the outcomes! Then you will find more time can be spent solving your own business issues, planning strategies, developing employees and servicing patients, clients and customers.

If you’d like more help with the actual steps to take in a problem solving coaching discussion, and how to handle all the ‘what ifs’, then we have courses in our Members Community designed to help out! We have modules looking at coaching skills, problem solving and team development. If you’d like to find out more about our membership, then click HERE.

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