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Can your managers manage … problem solving?

In most jobs, much of the work is routine, the same-old, same-old from day to day. But not always. Every now and then, a situation arises that requires a fresh approach. We usually call these situations problems.

Unfortunately, when most of the working day is spent ‘in the box’ then thinking outside of it can be a bit of a leap. As ever, it’s the manager’s role to help the team out of that box and into the realms of creative thought. (Yes, the manager could just handle the problem themselves and hand down the solution from their lofty position of responsibility… but multiple viewpoints are the secret to great problem-solving and anyway, what does the team do when the manager isn’t there? And besides, a little variety is good for everyone, no?)

Problem-solving techniques

If you are that manager or boss, and everyone is looking to you for a little guidance, it’s handy to have a method or framework to hand, if only to avoid falling back on the uninspiring, “Err… any ideas?” opening.

There’s no end of ways to analyse and solve problems – brainstorming, SCAMPER, mind mapping, etc. – but sometimes they become a little competitive, and the solution is often most popular with its originator, with everyone else left feeling a bit disappointed – after all, their solution was ‘better’!

One option that strives to take into account a wide variety of perspectives is the Z-model, derived from the still-useful-after-all-these-years Myers-Briggs psychological instrument.

The Z-model of problem-solving

Let’s not get into the background of Myers-Briggs (that could take all day). Instead, let’s get straight into using the model to work it through. There are four stages, each addressing a different perspective on gathering information about the problem and then devising possible solutions…

  1. Sensing – Sensing implies gathering information through the senses, in other words, tangible facts. What do you know about the problem? What are the details? List them.
  2. Intuition – Intuition isn’t about guessing, it’s about connections. Looking back, what does the problem remind you of? What are the patterns? Looking forward, what are the possible courses of action you could take?
  3. Thinking – Thinking is about logic. Assess each course of action in terms of its practicality and probability outcomes. Think about consequences, and the balance of costs and benefits.
  4. Feeling – The feeling stage is about the less tangible impact of each potential solution. How will it fit with your organisation’s values? How will it affect the key relationships (within the team, with your customers, etc?) And yes, how will people feel about it?

The advantage is, that by encompassing different perspectives, whatever solution you choose has been considered from a number of angles, hopefully incorporating the best of all worlds. Everybody approaches problems in a different way and the Z-model aims to ensure that nobody feels left out of the process when deciding on a solution. Give it a go, see what happens.

® Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® and MBTI ® are registered trademarks of CPP, Inc.

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