How to create a solutions focused, self-managing team

Do you find your workday constantly interrupted by your team dumping their workplace problems upwards?

It’s not uncommon for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking it’s their job to solve their staffs’ problems for them when they’re approached with ‘what do I do about this?’.

Cultivating a solutions-focused team culture is essential for several key reasons.

1. It ensures your team come to work and switch their brains on. A leader who defaults to solving their staffs’ problems can inadvertently train their team not to think when they’re at work. You might have fallen into the trap of sending the message that thinking for yourself is dangerous. This can occur when staff do try and problem solve for themselves, and the leader reacts poorly. Either due to the solution not being to their liking; or they sense a loss of control (needing to make every decision themselves, the classic micro-manager).

2. Succession planning. How will you assess which team members are going to be best suited to promotion into more senior roles in future? If they can’t problem solve at their current level of responsibility, there’s a real risk they’ll be unable to cope with the demands and responsibilities of a position higher up in your leadership structure.

3. Your own productivity and time management. Being constantly interrupted at work by your team makes it very hard to achieve your own goals and targets. The aim is to develop a self-managing team.

4. Team motivation. When you allow your staff to think for themselves and problem solve, you’re giving them autonomy to make decisions that affect their day-to-day work experience. This increased responsibility, if handled the right way is usually highly motivating.

Give this communication technique a try:

Return to sender

The objective? To train your team members to solve problems and make decisions for themselves.

If a team member asks you what to do about an issue that is part of their job, resist the urge to solve the problem for them. If you jump in and offer solutions, you’re actually training people to switch off their brain and rely on you to do the thinking for them.

1. Find out what the problem is – it may be urgent.

2. If it’s not urgent, ask them:
‘What do you think you should do about it, what are your options?
‘What would you do if I wasn’t here?’

3. If you’re not convinced they’ve thought it through properly, assertively ask:

‘I’m not convinced you’ve explored all your options. Please give it more thought and come back in 5 minutes and tell me what your options are.’

When they return, listen, and if you’re comfortable their options won’t cause an OH&S issue or serious harm to the business, ask them to choose an option. This last stage can be a struggle if you’re used to solving all your team’s problems. You might be asking yourself, ‘what if they screw it up? ‘what if it doesn’t work?’, or this classic ‘that’s not how I’d do it!’. All I can offer is to remember how you got good at the things you’re good at. You made some mistakes along the way, reset, reassessed, and you improved.

Make sure to check-in with them to see how they’ve gone. Be positive and give appropriate praise and recognition. As long as they’ve put in a solid effort, even if the result isn’t 100% there yet. You ultimately need your staff to be able to problem solve issues within their role, otherwise they won’t be able to perform it to standard.

An important part of training & developing team members is to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. If you fall into the trap of solving all their problems, you’ll be slowing down their development, and in fact, your own. How will you be able to take the next step in your career if you’re still doing the thinking for an entire team?

Consider attending our 2-day How To Lead workshop for more communication strategies and techniques to help achieve a truly self-managing team.

Ben Walter