How to Teach Your Team to Bring Solutions, Not Problems

Green solution button on the keyboard

Green solution button on the keyboardEvery manager wants a team that suggests solutions rather than just raising problems; employees who bring solutions play a crucial problem-solving role, take more ownership in the success of your team, and free you up to stay focused elsewhere. But if your team isn’t in the habit of proposing solutions when they identify problems, how do you build that habit in your team?

The biggest key is in your own behavior. When people bring a problem to you, are you enlisting them in solving it, or are you making the problem your own to solve?

First, turn the question back to them. Unless the problem is totally outside of their purview (in which case you will only frustrate them by asking them to propose a solution), ask what solution they think makes sense. For example:

  • “What do you think?”
  • “What options do you see for responding?”
  • “What solutions do you think we should consider?”
  • “What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Sometimes people don’t even know that they have the standing to suggest solutions, so make it clear that you want to hear their thoughts.

If it’s not urgent, you can also suggest that they take some time and then come back to you with their thoughts. For example:

  • “That is a problem! Why don’t you get on my calendar for tomorrow, spend some time thinking about it between now and then, and bring some potential solutions to the meeting?”
  • “At our next one-on-one, let’s talk about what options you think make sense.”

It’s also important not to jump in and take over when you see a project not going as planned. Instead, you want to coach your staff to come up with and implement solutions. For example, if you see a marketing pitch isn’t working well, don’t rewrite it yourself. Instead, talk about the elements that need to be changed, and then ask your staff member to do the rewrite. Otherwise, you risk training people to just turn to you when bumps arise – and then you will forever be the main problem-solver, which you don’t want.

Of course, in doing this, you need to be careful not to create a dynamic where no one will ever raise problems if they don’t have a solution to propose. To avoid that, make sure that you thank people for pointing out problems, encourage questions, make it safe for people to make errors, invest some coaching in building people’s problem-solving capabilities, and don’t expect anyone to have all the answers every time (and especially not right off the bat).

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