When you encounter a problem, do you have a method for solving it that you can turn to every time?

Problems are like transition points. They are situations that require us to think through what is taking place, make a decision and act on what we decide. It helps to have a method for approaching situations that require some analysis, a decision and the implementation of a decision. Too often, I find, people either go with a gut feeling of what to do or fall back on doing what they have always done.

Each change situation can be described as a problem. Until the problem is identified, there can be no solution. Without a solution, we will find ourselves in continuous confusion about what is going on.

Like many of us who have been in business for a while, we encounter times of success and times of decline. If we treat the times of decline as just something to last out, we never gain a clear sense of why we are in the situation we are in. We must define the situation as a problem in order to have a solution that we can implement to bring about a beneficial change.

Problem-solving isn’t that easy, but it is doable. You need two things: the will and a method.

You need a willingness to accept the solution once it is identified. If the solution points to an organizational structure problem, you have to be willing to change the structure. In other words, the solution to all problems begins within us. We are the solution.

To be able to solve a problem, we really need a methodology. Not only identifying what kind of problem it is but also what kind of solution we might need.

There is an old saying in the sports world that coaches are hired to be fired. If a team loses, it is obvious that the problem is the coach and the solution is to get a new coach. However, some of the winningest teams in history have taken a different approach. They look at the whole context of the team to identify why the team is losing and then make the changes to address it. The coach changes his approach to address the actual problem that is afflicting the team.

We can take a similar approach by using the problem-solving tool Circle of Impact. At its most basic level, the Circle of Impact fixes three types of problems: problems of clarity, problems of trust and problems of execution. In other words, problems that grow out of each of the three dimensions of leadership: Ideas, Relationships, and Structure.

Ed Brenegar - Circle of Impact

For example, here are 10 problems that I’ve used the Circle of Impact to help resolve.

  1. Unexpected career transitions
  2. Business partner conflicts
  3. Business merger and consolidation of one corporate structure into another
  4. Innovative non-profit spin-off from a long-standing community organization
  5. Creating a values-based strategy for overcoming executive ethical violations
  6. New leadership recruitment, selection, and transition
  7. Leadership team development
  8. Overcoming unexpected drop in business
  9. Low staff morale and performance
  10. Organizational communication, internally and externally

By the way, #10 is the top problem that I have found in every organization.

The list could go on. However, let’s look a little deeper into how to find a solution to the problems that the three dimensions reveal.

Problems of clarity are ones of awareness and knowledge. Being situationally aware is based upon having an idea of what a situation should look like. This is more than having an agenda for a meeting that you are leading. It means that you have a goal for how the interaction between people will go.

This problem is partly a communication problem, but equally important is being clear about what trust looks like as an interaction between people during the meeting. It means being able to identify situations when there is resistance or confusion. Situational awareness is a kind of social / culture knowledge. Here we understand how the values of a company impact how people work together and their work is executed.

Clarity of knowledge is not just knowing the information a job requires. It is also realizing that there is knowledge that you don’t even know, but more importantly, there is information that you don’t even know you don’t know.

Most of us live in a kind of informational darkness. We continue to go to sources of information that have worked for us in the past. However, what is true for us – that we don’t know what we don’t know – is also true for our traditional sources of information. We are all trapped in a behavior called confirmation bias, where we seek validation of our assumptions instead of being skeptical enough to look for new ways of looking at our situation.

When we walk into our meeting with our agenda, and we are not situationally aware and do not even realize that each person in the meeting has information and knowledge that we don’t even know they have, we have a problem. What then is this solution?

The first thing is to accept that there is a problem of clarity. The next is to turn to the other two dimensions to find the solution. The other two dimensions – Relationships and Structure – provide a way to create clarity.

Here are the simple steps:

Structure the meeting to include the issues that each member finds important. This step can begin to create the trust that unifies a team.

Second, develop the structure so that everyone has a predetermined contribution to make. In some companies, they call this a scoreboard. It is a reporting function and happens every day in a quick 5 to 8-minute meeting. This is a solution to the backside of our own lack of clarity which is that everyone else in the meeting is equally in the dark about what they don’t know. Or, just as important, they find that they have no means of addressing what they see from their own position of situation awareness.

In this situation, the deeper problem is not a lack of clarity, but rather a poorly defined team structure that erodes trust and motivation to contribute.

The lack of clarity is a symptom of a problem. This is how we typically identify our problems. We see symptoms. If we then apply the Circle of Impact problem-solving method to our symptoms by identifying how each dimension can contribute to the solution, the real problem will show itself. When it does, we now know what we didn’t know before, and we have discovered a solution that will make a difference that matters.

Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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