How does your team become skilled at finding solutions? Six tips

Change programs are intended to make organizations more effective, often to be able to respond more quickly to customers and to market developments. How do you ensure that people in teams find solutions themselves to the problems they encounter? Six tips.

A crucial precondition for implementing changes is the capacity of the teams to adapt and find solutions. How can teams become skilled at finding solutions? Six tips

1. Use strength as a starting point

Teams that get stuck often call on help from someone on the ‘outside’ – a team coach or manager. “The automatic reaction,” says René den Haan, “is that the manager starts giving advice on how they would tackle things differently.” Den Haan is a psychologist, teacher, and author who specializes in solution-oriented communication. A manager who ‘just’ explains how something should be done is not doing his team any favors, says Den Haan. “The team will learn very little in such cases. Whichever way, the team members will have to learn how to deal with what they come up against. It is therefore better to consider what the team is capable of. If you emphasize the strong features of the team members, you will boost their self-confidence and demonstrate that the team has its own mandate. The result is that they can then find their own solutions.”

2. Provide goals and frameworks

In teams that need to be more skilled at finding solutions, the manager is no longer at the forefront as a guide and leader. The team has to learn for itself to think about their goal, the available resources, and the allocation of tasks. “If problems arise in a team,” says Joost Crasborn, “it is usually because the aims and mutual expectations were not clear.” Crasborn is a trainer, coach and author of ‘Hoe coach ik mijn team? En het team zichzelf!’ He says, “In a more autonomous team, the people depend on each other and have to know from each other where they stand. It is only when the team has a clear idea of where it is going that it is able to determine whether it has the necessary competencies and allocate the tasks. This prevents things being unclear later on.”

3. Encourage solution-oriented communication

“Communication in education is mostly problem-oriented,” says Astrid Vermeer, the founder of the Instituut voor Samenwerkingsvraagstukken (institute for collaboration issues). That means that if something happens, everyone gets together to discuss the cause. But decisiveness is one of the most important characteristics of solution-oriented teams, and that decisiveness disappears if you take a problem-oriented approach.” After all, how the cause of a problem is perceived in a team can vary. Discussions are not only time-consuming, they also unleash negative emotions. Vermeer explains, “In a solution-oriented approach, the causes are simply acknowledged. The team focuses on the solution. What should be the aim? Do we have the resources and the authority to achieve it? Whether or not you agree with the arguments on why you decide on a particular solution is secondary. As long as you agree on what that solution should be.”

4. Ensure openness

Greater mutual dependence in a solution-oriented team requires greater openness. People need to know from each other what they are up to, what the results of their work is, and whether there is anything that is threatening to go wrong – or has done so. “The team members have to be honest with each other,” says René den Haan. “It is crucial for team members to know where their colleagues stand. They also need to be transparent regarding their norms and values. That is the foundation of their work.” One possibility is to teach communication and feedback techniques, which for example could help prevent team members ‘forgetting’ to mention, due to feelings of shame or awkwardness, that the work they are involved in is not going to plan.

5. Be aware of the workload

Giving employees more autonomy can increase the flexibility and quality of their work. However, managers often give teams more and more work, and the teams seem well able to take it on. Ultimately, though, things run aground, says Joost Crasborn. A team needs the space in order to coordinate the tasks between them. They have to master the new tasks they have been given collectively.” Setting ever-higher targets will affect the team’s capacity to reflect on its actions. And eventually its performance.

6. Invest in the learning process

Ultimately, it is the intention that teams are better able to manage their own affairs and overcome any setbacks. That will only work if they get the opportunity to explore dead-ends and make mistakes – without management looking over their shoulders waiting to correct what they are doing. “Good managers give their teams that opportunity,” says Crasborn, “because it is the only way they can develop. That is certainly saying something, because it is a long-term investment. And it does entail risks. Nonetheless, teams have to learn themselves to deal with mistakes and contradictions. They have to learn how to handle setbacks. This brings out their strengths. It is therefore better to allow your teams to fight their own battles.”

Or, if you would like your whole organization to learn, look at our Tailor-Made programs. The themes for which we provide in-company training courses include New Ways of Organizing, Management Development, and Change and Innovation.

Source: This article is part of the ‘Nieuw Leiderschap’ special on Produced in partnership with De Baak.

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