Any business leader knows there's value in being able to ask tough questions. But identifying potential risks, issues or challenges is just one side of the coin. To drive your team - and your company - forward, you need to be focused not just on problems but on solutions. Here's how to make sure that all-important critical thinking goes hand-in-hand with constructive criticism.
Focusing On Solutions Lets You Move Forward
Assessing an idea from all sides is a key part of business decision-making. This is known as "intellectually honest resistance" and makes sure your team is taking an evidence-based, considered approach instead of just making decisions based on gut instinct. But too much of this can mean your team starts playing the devil's advocate, shutting down potentially great ideas instead of giving them room to grow. This can cause even your best team members to lose confidence and agency and discourage them from proposing ideas or solutions.
What's needed here is a shift in mindset. Instead of focusing on why something can't happen, focus on how you can make it happen. One creates barriers—the other, solutions. And when you're solutions-oriented, you can start making progress.
Getting Out of the Weeds and into the Problem-Solving
If you've got a team of naysayers disguised as critical thinkers, here's what to do.
- Give non-leaders ownership of problems. Typical team dynamics encourage leaders to focus on the "why" and others to focus on the "how." Those with less power end up focused on details and obstacles instead of the larger vision. Empowering everyone to search for the right answers, make decisions, offer solutions and share in the team vision can foster a solutions-oriented mindset.
- Define the behaviors you want to see. Rather than just telling people to be "solutions-oriented," explicitly define what that looks like. Look at where your team gets stuck or where problems usually arise and use those as a starting point. Suggest options like requiring three solutions for every roadblock raised or brainstorming sessions that involve input from the whole team. Start each session with a reminder to think about solutions instead of problems so that your team is primed for problem-solving. And don't forget to reward people when they exhibit those behaviors!
- Make sure your team isn't overworked. The more stretched thin your team is, the more likely they are to find problems and roadblocks. That's because they have so much on their plates that it's easier to shut down an idea or solution than add a whole new project to their schedule. By redistributing responsibilities and workloads, you can position your team to look forward.
- Lead by example. Look long and hard at your own behaviors and make sure that you're walking the walk. Speak your mind, suggest ideas, ask the right questions, and reframe problems in terms of opportunities, not risks. Create a space where people feel safe to contribute or brainstorm and where they don't feel like they're being graded or assessed. Ideas don't have to be perfect - even the messiest idea (or a mistake!) can spark a solution.
- Encourage research and resource-gathering. Research papers, case studies, and newspaper articles are all great resources for expanding your team's worldview and considering new perspectives. See how other companies or organizations have approached a similar topic or problem, and see whether you can mine their experiences for your own use. This can also be valuable in cases where you're facing legitimate roadblocks that need to be acknowledged - but that can still be worked around.
- Bring in an outside face. If your team is stuck or you're retreading old ground, invite an external consultant or person from another team or department to sit in on your meeting. They can bring a fresh set of eyes along with new experience and knowledge to your situation.
Today's The Day to Start Solving Problems
Changing your company culture takes time - and isn't always a linear path. Start implementing the ideas above today, and you'll find that bit by bit, your team will start shifting its mindset away from identifying problems and toward solving them.
Need some direction for getting started, or just want an external perspective on what behaviors you need to focus on to build a solution-oriented team? Book a consultation with the leadership pros at StellaPop - and let's solve some problems together!