Monday, 28 April 2008

Solution seekers or problem solvers?

Maybe you've had this experience too? You've come across one of those people in a team or organisation who just seem to have things around them so, well, sorted. I've come across another one of these great folk again so I spent some time investigating what it was that contributed to their success. Of course, this also meant I had to rearrange a few of my own mental models in the process.

Yes, they met all the usual requirements of good interpersonal skills, they had good time keeping and you could rate them as productive and efficient leaders. But there was something else. They were working in a fast-paced operational environment where quality improvement was required and the technical skills associated with improvement and change management were highly prized by their peers and senior managers. I anticipated seeing a high achieving improvement manager at work, putting their skills into action and solving problems.

I was wrong. What I encountered was almost the opposite. This person had few if any technical improvement skills. They knew enough to hold a conversation. Their focus was on the business and on diagnosing the context and the wider issues at stake. So how did problems get resolved and improvement take place? And how did this leader stay remarkably unstressed while also delivering a newly streamlined operation?

Their approach was one of a solution seeker? All their language was about solutions. This was more than internal organisational debates and discussions. This person was a vast networker. At the first sign of an issue, feelers were put out on their web of networks, asking questions of their contacts, "anyone seen this issue?", "who has solved this and how", "who has a guideline or policy for this?". If this person didn't get a response within a couple of days the questioning moved on to "does anyone know someone who has solved this problem, can you introduce me to someone?". Very soon, phone calls were set up and discussions held. As quickly as possible they linked up members of the team with teams in other places that had solved the problem and they shared experiences.

Coldy written here in the blog, this looks like any old description of a way to share good practice through a social system. Thing is, it seldom happens this way for real when leaders are up against the hot pipes and working in organisations where the culture is silo'd and boundaries are firm.

This leader is different. They have a fundamentally alternative view of their role. They look outwards. They know they cannot have all the skills necessary to solve all the problems. They know one of the most effective competencies they can bring to the role is their ability to network. They also know the capital their network brings and they use it.

This is the solution seeker mentality and it is focused on speeding up the adoption and implementation of better practices.

CC 2008 Sarah Fraser Creative Commons-Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative

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