What’s the Problem You’re Trying to Solve?

Person with their computer and a notebook, ready to see strategy instead of routine.

As executive coaches, we often work with teams to help move an organization forward. 

Recently, in one of those team meetings, someone reported out about an activity that was taking 10-15 hours a week to complete, and bemoaned that the employee responsible for it simply didn’t have time for it anymore. People grumbled a little to hear that the employee was not keeping up with the activity, and then began to discuss who they could get to complete the activity faster.

As we watched, we could see that the team was caught solving the problem at hand, but they had not truly identified the more pressing problem—that they had a single activity taking a lot of time and money to complete.

To begin to shift the direction of the conversation, we asked the purpose of the activity and the team responded that it was “important to workflow.” And since “workflow” is clearly important, they went back to determining who had 10-15 hours a week to spare or whether they should hire someone new. 

At this point, we asked, “Can someone share with us the problem that is being solved by the activity?” The team fell silent and then one brave soul repeated, “It’s for workflow.” 

There’s no doubt that workflow is important. So, we asked, what problem with workflow is it solving, and is there a better way to tackle that problem than this activity that is taking 10-15 person-hours a week?

As you can imagine, the team was quite baffled by the question. The activity in question was one that had been around a long time so the very question was hard to digest. What was the problem it was solving? 

One by one they started to realize that this process was a holdover from the early days of the organization. It was done to manage workflow when there were only a couple of people on staff. It turns out that no one really used it anymore, even though everyone was invested in knowing it was being done.

An important question to ask about activities, reports, meetings, and spreadsheets is “what is the problem this activity, report, meeting, or spreadsheet is solving?” If you can’t answer immediately, it might be that it’s not really doing what you had hoped, or it’s an outdated attempt at solving a problem that would be better handled in other ways.

In the case of this group, when they seriously considered the problem they were trying to solve, they created a solution that responded to current concerns and future probabilities. Well done!

This week, determine if there are tasks you need to take a harder look at and see if they’re still solving the problems they need to solve. Is your team stuck in their routine, or is it time to get innovative? 

Let us know how it goes,
Your Coaches and Allies at Carpenter Smith Consulting

Need someone to help you or your team ask the hard questions?
Click to contact us about our coaching services.
 

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  • Linda Carpenter, Stephanie Smith

    Carpenter Smith Consulting

    Linda Carpenter and Stephanie Smith started Carpenter Smith Consulting in Portland to support individuals and teams who dream about having the power, impact and influence to create success and meaning in ... Read full profile
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