Develop your team by helping them to be problems solvers

Emma is nettled. I can see it in her body posture and hear it in her voice. She is describing her boss and the impact his approach to managing and leading the team is having.

Emma is a highly skilled professional. Her new boss keeps telling her what to do, gives advice and always has a, ‘when I was in this situation, this is what I did…here’s what you should do..”

 Are you someone who has gotten into the habit of telling your staff what to do …?

Most managers have a high level of expertise and skills that they are used to sharing, mainly using a directive approach. This approach is useful in some situations, such as in a crisis or where an employee does not have depth of skills or knowledge to address the problem  and needs to be told what to do or be given  specific instructions.

In most work situations however, team members are trained professionals who are highly capable of undertaking their roles.

If you only have a directive style in your repertoire, you may have noticed that your team:

  • Is becoming frustrated, disengaged and unfulfilled
  • Shows a lack of initiative and enthusiasm

And you:

  • Are getting fed up that your team does not seem to be able to make a decision by themselves
  • Too much of your time is taking up by staff asking for advice

When team members are continually being told what to do and how to do it, they lose their ability to problem solve, to be curious and to learn.

In effective they become dependent on you for their answers. They are not empowered to think for themselves, are less accountable for their actions (you have told them what to do) and their commitment, ownership and motivation to carry out the task are diminished

What can you do to turn this around?

Shift your mindset – see your staff or team as people who are resourceful and have the ability to solve or find the means to work out what it is they need to do.

Move from the belief that you the expert with the answers to seeing your staff as people who have the solutions within them.

See yourself as a facilitator, a guide, a catalyst… in helping your people become more resourceful.

See the bigger picture – instead of thinking about the little extra time a non directive approach may take, see it as an investment. Think of the cascading power of helping your people to grow, develop and have the ability to solve organisational challenges.

Once this approach is embedded and becomes a habit, your team will in turn start to role model these behaviours and style to their own teams and soon you will have a department, an organisation… which has a learning culture that fosters problem solving and agile thinkers.

 Some ways to start:

  • STOP, don’t rush into giving an answer or providing advice
  • PAUSE, think – has this person the ability and inner resources to solve the problem / find a solution
  • Use questions to help the person develop new perspectives, thinking and insights. And remember to check in with feelings, assumptions, beliefs and motivations
  • Use the process of asking non judgemental, neutral questions that will help to identify outcomes, the way forward, options, challenges, a plan of action…. Help the person to come up with strategies that he/she is committed to putting into action

 Here’s an example of Sally whose boss is telling her what to do

Manager: “There are a couple of ways you can handle this. I would suggest that you do this …..” and goes on to tell Sally what she should do. Finishing with, “ let me know how you get on”.

Instead the manager could engage in dialogue, a coaching conversation, which may go something like this:  

Manager: What are the different ways you can approach this?

Sally: Well, I suppose I could do A, B or C

Manager: What criteria would you use to judge those different approaches?

Sally: I would consider cost, time, resources…

Manager: Which option seem the best against these criteria?

Sally: I would go for A because of…

Manager: What is the first step that you will take to get this moving?

Sally: To get your OK in going ahead with it!

Manager: Assuming that you have the go ahead, what will be your next steps?

Sally : I will speak with Y about timings, arrange a budget approval with Z, meet with X to get more information/ data…

Manager: Looking ahead, what potential challenges might you encounter along the way?

Sally: The timing might not be right and I will have to delay it, Z might say there is not enough money to fund it…

Manager:  You have listed 3 possible challenges ( paraphrase Sally’s own words to state what they are)  how might you tackle them if they arise?  

Sally: well, if Y says the timing is not right, I will…

Manager: What milestones do you envision for making this a success?

Sally: I hope to have a meeting set up with Y by the end of next week, get the information that I need by…..

And so the dialogue continues….

In this non directive approach the manager has facilitated a learning process by using questions to guide the conversation to explore outcomes, options, responsibilities, action steps…

Coaching conversations are about fostering learning, about helping others to be resourceful, to take ownership of the situation and be committed to finding a way forward and being motivated to take action.

It is a process, in which you as a manager can do informally or formally in 5 minutes or 55 minutes. The trick is get into the habit of listening, engaging in dialogue and asking questions to help your team find solutions to personal, team and organisational challenges and in so doing learn, grow and develop.

Wishing you better leadership and conversations with your team


Image: Flickr user Peter Hayes



About verawoodhead

I'm an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with managers and leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and drive results; achieve promotion ; make successful career changes, be resilient and thrive at work. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, design learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals. Connect with me on Twitter @verawoodhead
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