Bring Problems, Not Solutions

January 8, 2019

“Bring solutions, not problems.”

That sounds right. You want to fill your team with people who are proactive.

You are understandably frustrated by the team member who thinks it’s helpful to (1) find something wrong, (2) announce this amazing discovery to the team (sidetracking them from their day) and then (3) drop the mic.

When it comes to the technical parts of their work — running and improving your systems, your processes, your policies — it’s sound advice. You do want to cultivate a culture where people bring a (potential) solution and not (only) a problem they see.

However, there’s a vast area of creating and sustaining a high-performance culture where that’s simply awful advice: the area between human beings.

Think of your life outside of work, including but not limited to your romantic relationships.

Have you tried “bringing solutions” during the difficult moments there? How did that go?

If you want to improve a relationship with another human, or with a group of them, bringing your solutions is almost never the right approach.

The right approach is to bring problems, so people can work on them together. The skill is to bring them with vulnerability but without victimhood.

Bringing a solution, even if it might be a viable one, is likely to close down dialogue when the thing you want to do is to open it up. To go a step further, good leaders realize that the first problem is usually a red-herring anyway. The first problem is a doorway to discover a deeper one, to get closer to the root cause of whatever is going on.

So, the next time you want to give someone feedback, or deepen the conversation in a one-on-one, resist the temptation. Bring up a problem that doesn’t have a solution, or that has an obvious one that might not be the right one.

Share with your colleague that this problem is something you’re thinking about, that you have some ideas but that you’re interested in other points of view.

Make it okay to have problems that don’t have answers, at least not easy ones.

It’s the key to discover the most important solution there is: trust.

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