Have you ever found yourself frustrated with subordinate team members who bring you their problems? Have you ever asked yourself, “How can I empower my team to be self-directed problem solvers?”
A few years ago, as an Executive Officer and Chief of Staff, I found myself flustered with subordinate leaders who seemed to bring me problems to solve for them. I found myself helping them with organizational issues in their areas of specialty throughout the workday. Eventually, 5 pm would roll around and things would quiet down to a point that I could finally get my own work done. This traditionally meant that I missed dinner with my family. I knew there had to be a better way.
Determined to find a solution, I started to analyze these issues. I looked at the root causes of the problems that led to daily emergencies. I knew that understanding the cause of these emergencies would help me find a solution.
The following days were spent asking questions to understand how we got to a specific problem. What were the underlying conditions? Who was responsible? How can we prevent this from happening again?
Why People Bring You Problems
As I looked deeply at the issues that troubled my team, my first realization was that whether you are in the military, the corporate world, or in any industry that involves human interaction, problems will arise. My second discovery was that I, in fact, was a big reason that my team brought me problems instead of solutions. The reason people brought me problems was because I enabled their behavior. I did this in two ways:
- I attempted to add too much value. Marshall Goldstein discusses this phenomenon in his book “ “>What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” Goldstein states, “A classic problem of smart, successful people is Adding Too Much Value. This bad habit can be defined as the overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion…It is extremely difficult for successful people to listen to other people tell them something that they already know without communicating somehow that (a) they already knew it and (b) they know a better way.” The Military Leader’s Drew Steadman also speaks to this issue in his blog post Adding Too Much Value.
- By consistently solving every problem brought to my attention, I trained my staff to rely on me and bring me issues for a quick fix. This meant that I wasn’t giving them an opportunity to figure it out on their own first.
Once I understood my role in the problem, I quickly realized that I could change the situation as well. I discovered that a simple question empowered my team and put them at the center stage.
There is one simple question that you can start asking today to empower your team members and get them in the habit of bringing you solutions instead of problems.
What’s Your Recommendation?
Asking your team members for their recommendation, empowers them and transforms their thinking into that of a problem-solver. This simple question moves your employee to the driver’s seat instead of just being a passenger.
How One Question Empowers Your Team
There are several reasons this one question transforms your employees from merely reporting problems up the chain to an active member in the issue.
- Gives Voice. The question gives your team members a voice in the issue. Over time this voice will grow from one with an opinion on a specific problem to a voice that helps improve the organization.
- Provides Agency. Being asked for a recommendation gives your team member a stake in the matter. They now have “skin in the game” as they are now part of the solution.
- Instills Ownership. Having agency gives people ownership of the topic. Once your team members “own” the issues they come across, they will work feverishly to not only solve them but look for ways to prevent them in the future.
- Expectation. This question implies that you expect your team to be part of the solution, which transforms them into a group of problem solvers.
Once I started asking this question, I saw a change in my team over time. At first, they struggled with an answer but came to the see solutions as we discussed the problem. Soon my team came to be prepared with a recommendation in hand. And later they informed me that there was an issue, but that they had solved it with a specific course of action.
This one simple question empowered the team and transformed them into being proactive problem solvers. This question can work for you and your team too. Give it a try.Subscribe to Developing Your Team
Question: How do you empower your team?
Photo Caption: Staff Sgt. Kyle Law and Staff Sgt. Joshua Jorgensen, 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron crew chiefs, consult a technical order to troubleshoot a C-130H Hercules engine problem. They are at Bagram Air Field, Parwan province, Afghanistan, Oct. 6, 2013. Hercules aircrew from the 774th EAS delivered 32 cargo bundles during two trips to remote drop zones in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Law, a San Antonio, Texas, native, and Jorgensen, a Brentwood, Calif., native, are deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. (USAF Photo/Master Sgt. Ben Bloker)