All great teams have common characteristics which can include being proactive, communicating well and team members working towards a common objective.
A key responsibility of a leader is to ensure team members continually improve their performance and collectively make the team better.
Great teams thrive when it comes to solving problems. The bigger the problem, the better they’re able to adapt and work together to find solutions to overcome their problem.
Problem-solving is a skill that can be developed with practice and discipline over time. Leaders must ensure they’re doing all they can to help their team become better problem solvers, while ensuring team objectives are being met.
Many years ago, I managed a manufacturing site that produced cylindrical paper tubes including cartridges used to fill adhesives and sealants used on constructions sites and by handymen. One particular assembly line consistently produced waste as high as 20%, which resulted in high material costs.
In order to solve the problems on the line, we got many people involved including raw material suppliers, engineering, quality control, production supervisors and the assembly line workers. I wish I could say the problem was solved quickly. It took almost three years to reach the stage where the line was operating as best as it could.
While there were many things that were done by the different teams to solve the line problems, as I was responsible for the overall profit and loss of the site, one of my metrics was production output — how many units were produced daily on each of the two shifts.
One particular project I initiated was to experiment with a different line layout to minimise the number of 90-degree turns the cartridges needed to make, which often caused jam-ups, resulting in the line stopping. The objective was to minimise or even eliminate any line stoppages.
The experiment proved extremely successful as the line output increased dramatically, resulting in less downtime. As a result of the experiment, the layout of the line was eventually changed to the new one, and over time, we were able to eliminate the second shift as the line outputs continually improved.
By continually focusing on how to solve the problems of the line, my team and I were able to progressively eliminate them and eventually reap the rewards of the effort everyone put in.
How to Help Your Team Solve Problems More Effectively
- Create a winning team culture. A company’s culture is often a reflection of the values of its leaders. If leaders are leading by example and promoting team activities and collaboration, it will filter down to the lower levels of any company. Referring to departments as “teams” is one way to foster a team environment and culture.
- Give team members autonomy to make decisions. When team members are empowered to make decisions without the fear of reprimand or punishment, that’s when greater levels of creativity and innovation occur. While there has to be certain levels of accountability with respect to decisions and performance, team members are more likely to become better problem solvers when they’re not being micro-managed.
- Encourage ongoing team training. As with developing any skill, the more focus given to it, the faster it’ll improve. As problem solving is a critical aspect of any high-performing team, a leader must provide the necessary resources and training to help team members succeed. This may include brainstorming sessions where all team members focus on solving a particular problem. Other things may include collaborating with other teams in the company to solve their problems.
- Provide regular feedback. Things only improve if they are measured and tracked over a period of time. Similarly, for a team to improve their problem solving abilities, a record of the problems they solved, how long it took, what was involved and who did what to reach a solution, has to be captured. That way, if a leader thinks his or her team isn’t finding solutions in the time frame expected, they can always refer back to their records and offer assistance as required.
- Continuously raise the bar. Sometimes asking a team to do something that may seem extremely unlikely or impossible can be the catalyst to bring the best out of team members. A leader must be willing to continually challenge his or her team to raise their performance standards and become more creative, while their achieve bigger objectives.
Teams that thrive and are encouraged to become better problem solvers, are more likely to get through challenging periods with less conflict, and they have a better chance of achieving their objectives faster. Teams that don’t develop a problem-solving culture will find it challenging to elevate their status to a high-performing team. The leaders who are willing to invest in their team’s success will reap the rewards over the long term.
Question: What is another thing that can be done to help a team become better problem solvers?
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