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creativekidengineersWe consultants are wired to be problem-solvers. See something not working right? Let’s find a way to fix it. See a workplace in conflict? Let’s find a way to resolve it. See the organizational duct tape starting to show? Build a structure to hold it together better.

It’s not just consultants, though: the strongest, most sustainable businesses (and nonprofits, let’s not forget them) see a problem, one real people experience, and provide a solution for their problem. Sometimes, that’s a technical problem (my home won’t heat); other times, it’s a “what if” that someone figures out (what if I could search for information on a handheld device that also makes phone calls?).

The problem-solution orientation drives so much of business that we consider it essential for building new businesses, new product lines, and new service offerings. Problem-Solution Fit comes as phase one of three as leaders develop new value propositions.

Nevertheless, problem-solution thinking does not address some of the most fundamental business questions we face. Business questions where defining the problem itself is the problem are called adaptive challenges, that require adaptive change. How do we work in problem-solution thinking if problem definition is itself the problem?

[See the definition of Adaptive Change here]

Moreover, problem-solution thinking tends to discount or dismiss the humanity (and sometimes even the personhood) of those involved in the situation. When we discover that the problem we are facing is a “people problem”, we often try to “fix” the people. This is especially true of the so-called “soft skills” problems: team alignment, listening, leadership, timeliness, engagement, and so on.

When we see people problems as the problem, and we apply problem-solution thinking there, we tend to view people as machines that need someone to tinker with them or repair some flaw, rather than as human beings who have real – and valid – motivations for doing what they do, and mindsets in which they operate. In short, we discount those things that make us human, and then wonder why our solutions don’t work.

By contrast, when we intentionally view people as creative, resourceful, and whole, we tend to approach others differently.

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2020 has thrown curveball after curveball at small- and medium-sized businesses. Those with adaptive leadership are best suited to survive the pandemic, economic downturn, and political turmoil. Adaptive leadership starts by understanding what kind of game you are playing: finite and infinite.

 

Uncertainty 

 

Finite games have known players, set rules, a point at which they begin and end. They have winners and losers.

 

Infinite games have known and unknown players, constantly changing rules, and continue forever. There are no winners in infinite games. A player’s sole objective is to stay in the game as long as possible. When a player runs out of the resources and/or will to play, they lose.

 

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kidsatoddsThere are two types of office conflict: communication and emotion. We have all experienced breakdowns in communication whether it is because all pertinent information was not provided, or information is misinterpreted. We have all also experienced those moments when emotions drive decisions and effect relationships, processes, professionalism, and reputation. While no two situations are the same, conflict cannot be denied or painted over. Like a weed, avoiding the conflict will seed more conflict, etc, until you are overrun. Here are a few tips for dealing with conflict in your office culture.

1.) Define Appropriate Behavior.

We all deal with conflict in our own ways as a result of our individual socialization and emotional processing. Feelings are valid and expressing them is a legitimate exercise in emotional and social health. That being said, there is a time, place, and manner and acting outside of certain norms can be a breach in professional/social contracts. For instance, let’s say John and Greg disagree on the best approach for their mutual client. When meeting with their client, they disagree and even argue heatedly. Not only does this put the client in an expectedly uncomfortable social situation, but it also stirs doubt in their mind as to what actually is best for them. The display of discord is very unprofessional, and damaging for the company as a whole.

How can this be solved to avoid the conference room demonstration?

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Team MeetingThere comes a time in every small- to medium-sized business when leaders start asking, “how do we scale our team”? While for startups this involves making first hires beyond the core owner / operational team, for established businesses this usually means navigating adding management and executive leadership.

The general trajectory for businesses is three basic steps:

  1. They hire the entry-level and technical personnel.
  2. They hire those who manage and organize people and workflow.
  3. They hire an executive team to oversee forwarding the vision and direction of the company.

Three types of organizations approach their scaling challenge three different ways. Please note that these are categories, and intended as descriptions, rather than prescriptions.

The Models

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In 2009 1,500 Realtors attended a 36-hour conference with an industry leader whose specialty was “Business by Referral.”  This man was a superlative presenter, supported by both state-of-the-art technology and a well-honed team. 

About 3:30 on the second afternoon he was taking final questions and wrapping up – and, perhaps, mentally heading out to the airport and his California home. 

Then a person stood up, and said, “Brian, I’ve used your system for many years and you know how highly I think of it.  But I’m really struggling.  It’s a tough year, and nothing seems to have traction any more.  I need you to tell me: What’s the One Thing?  What’s the absolute basic tool to which you always return and which always works?”

His sincerity and earnestness gathered everyone’s concerned attention – and curiosity.  What would Brian say?  And you could see Brian mentally getting back out of the Uber, pulling himself back into the room, and maybe thinking, “Geez, what else can I do?  I’ve poured it all out here these two days, with workbooks and videos and pep songs and breakout sessions….”

But he squared his shoulders, thought for a moment, took a steadying breath, and said,

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