Each of us has worked in a team to accomplish a particular team objective or solving a common problem, though it is in a leadership capacity or as an individual contributor. A very common thought to have during these times can be that, a particular team member:
- Do not have the skills to work together in solving the problem for team or organization
- Do not fit the nature of the team and organization
- Do not fit the culture, mindset, and attitude of the team and organization
- Do not understand the problem
- Do not cooperate in working together as a team to solve the problem
- Is on a different path while the others in the team are On another path
Ever wondered why this happens during the problem solving as a team?
Open up, Communicate, Unlearn and Learn
It is human nature to arrive at the above thoughts or perceptions, sooner or later. But before that, have you made enough attempts to talk with an open mind with that person?
Or, while you spoke with that colleague, did you see:
- Do you both know what problem is to be solved?
- Do you both mutually agree to the problem statement?
- Do you both know what is expected from you both and the whole team?
- Do you both see the goals and milestones set for each other in solving the problem?
If your answer to the above questions is a “Yes”, but still you see the other person is not assisting, not working as a team:
- Does that person differ in ideologies, principles, and thought levels from the others in the team?
- Does that person have the same pace and skills in solving the problem together like you or others in the team?
If “Yes” is your answer to the above questions, then:
- Have you communicated with clarity being a supportive and empathetic team member?
- How was your communication with that team member?
- Did you ask that person, did she/he understand and agree with your view? What did you hear?
If you have not done this, you as well have added more pain to the problem than solving the problem for you both, the team, and the organization.
Ideologies, Skills, Work Style and Principles are [NOT] Problems
If asked what is a problem, then simply put it is the difference between the expected and the actual. The difference tells what’s the cost to the context of the problem identified and accepted.
The skills, ideologies, principles, and work style are not problems until it blocks or does not serve the problem being solved as a team or as an individual. In my experience, I see, all these will evolve with time. The individual will learn what is important and figure out if their ideologies and principles are more important, or the problem which we want to solve as a team is more important.
A skilled person will stay flexible enough with their ideologies, skills, work style, and principles to the context of work, and be one with the team. If she/he needs the skill to be developed, she/he will do it and work along with the team. I do this regularly.
Not all in the team are the same in terms of skills, ideologies, working style, problem-solving capabilities, and principles. Yet all come together to work. Most of the time this does not appear to us when we become conclusive or judgemental and categorize someone as unfit to team or organization.
People who want to work, they will adapt and evolve in a supportive and encouraging environment.
Having said that, how much luxury one has for creating such culture and the environment in a corporate world, that’s the question which changes the dimension of this problem. Culture change is not easy, but it is needed when change is a necessity. Culture changes when it is from top to bottom in the organization and when leadership leads by example, it brings the change for sure.
The Problem Solving Phase
In my experience of working with teams, I learn, when people come to work, they come together as a team to solve the problem. A team working to solve the problems can have multiple teams within it. Each team contributes its part to what constitutes the solution for a problem.
When I observed that another person is not understanding what I expect out of her/him in solving the problem together, I saw the difference in the phase in which we were in solving the problem. I was in the phase which is either ahead or behind to the phase in which the other person was.
Such a difference can lead to misunderstanding and confusion towards the end expectations.
More often than not, we miss on the importance of solving this problem of ‘different people being in-different problem-solving phases‘ for the sake of timely delivery, at times, at the cost of team confidence and quality.
We almost consistently miss identifying this in our day-to-day work and life. As a result, it creates more damage than healing.
For example, The VP or CxO is in another phase of seeing and solving the same problem (here the possibility of building the gap is more and this adds to the nourishment of the problem which we are solving as a team.)
Apart from this gap, the other factors like infrastructure, support, business, people, competition, time, etc., will open up new challenges and bring in another set of problems in addition to the one we are solving.
Me working at a desk on a problem may not see these fresh sets of problems which the VP or CxO see and as a result, now I might not respond well enough to VP’s/CxO’s thoughts about the problem and solution.
Why does this turn out to be a problem?
- When there is a difference in what the manager, VP, and CxO think about the problem, and what I think, the perspectives are different and the gap is created.
- When I’m not present in the problem-solving phase they are in, I will continue solving the problem in my phase
- I will continue to think that I am doing my best and working with the team, while others in the team do not think so
Being in a different phase of problem-solving may create huge expectations vs reality debt. Add to this the delivery pressure and things can get very tricky.
By moving to the problem-solving phase in which others are, I can see what they are trying to do.
When I do this, I learn they are right and what they are doing is needed. Likewise, when they move to my problem-solving phase and look at what I see for the problem, I will sound right and what I’m doing would look needed.
Both of us are right and doing what is needed in the phase where we are. But others who are not in the same problem-solving phase do not see me solving the problem. The perception then builds that I’m not working as a team and I’m a different voice in a team. Further, it creates barriers in interaction and communication, creates the space for difference in opinion, and for the unhealthy relationship at work as a team. All leading to misunderstanding and atoxic atmosphere.
One has to go along and pull the others in a team to the same phase and sight of the problem so that new problems are not created.
People who have crossed this state and recognized it consciously in their work, communicate better to their teams when they get a hint of it. By doing it, a leader will help her/his teams to see the problem’s dimension and work towards it as a team. Possible that not all people (and leaders) have experienced this situation consciously yet.. This article might serve as a heuristic in that case to catch the hint of this problem and its patterns being created.
So to summarise:
- Understand in which phase of problem-solving you are
- Know what you see in the sight of the problem at your phase
- Understand in which phase the other person is
- Know what other person see in the sight of a problem at her/his phase
- Create an environment where you openly talk about this to your team
- Communicate the gap and see that it is mutually agreed
- Educate the team about the different phases in the problem learning and solving
- Have a model of problem-solving for your context which identifies these phases and sight of a problem seeing
- Share this model with your team
- Know that each phase of problem-solving is important and may have its own distinct throughput
- This thought process should be injected into the culture. Culture has to be from top to root.
About the Author:
Ravisuriya sees himself as a student of Software Testing and is a practicing Software Test Engineer from Bengaluru. He is with a mindset “put me anywhere in the context of Software Development, I will test by learning the system and add value to the team”. He looks at how to solve the problems related to Software Testing and Automation in the context of a project and helps himself and his team by solving it.
He tweets here @testingGarage and blogs at Testing Garage.