PROBLEM SOLVING

The Leadership Team Maturity Model


“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

―ALBERT EINSTEIN

Problem solving is about properly defining problems, correctly diagnosing situations, ideating creative and elegant solutions, deciding on the appropriate path, creating efficient and effective plans, and continuously optimizing and driving execution. Problem solving skills are at the core of great strategy and high-performing leadership teams. Essentially, the primary activity of elite leadership groups revolves around solving problems. Developing this skill set is arguably the most complex challenge for individuals and leadership teams alike, as it demands enhancements in both personal and collective critical thinking and creativity. The good news is that leadership teams can learn and systematically improve their problem solving by working on the fundamentals of focus, framing, logic, and creative ideation.

High-performing teams focus their problem solving on what matters to drive the business forward. They are artful and creative in properly framing problems and solution sets. They use strong logic backed by fact-bases and analytics to seek the truth. And, they are great at the creative ideation necessary to develop elegant solutions to their problems.

1. Focus: Prioritizing problem-solving efforts on what significantly impacts the business's long-term success is crucial. High-performing leadership teams excel in focusing their resources and brainpower on critical issues, enhancing their efficiency and effectiveness in driving the business model forward.

2. Framing: How leadership teams frame problems and solutions determines their approach to solving them. High-performing teams adeptly use correct framing and frameworks, stepping back to carefully consider the best way to address an issue and facilitating the discovery of robust solutions.


3. Logic: Logic forms the backbone of problem-solving, involving the breakdown of issues, hypothesis testing, and thorough analysis. High-performing teams invest considerable time in logical reasoning to diagnose problems, ideate solutions, and develop effective plans, often requiring a significant improvement in logical skills for lower-performing teams.

4. Creative Ideation: The critical phase where groundbreaking solutions are conceived, necessitating a commitment to expanding and refining ideas. High-performing leadership teams are distinguished by their ability to brainstorm and refine a wide array of ideas, leading to elegant solutions that propel the business forward.

 

Problem Solving Model

1. fOCUS


Problem solving things that don't matter doesn't matter. Most of what most leadership teams bother themselves with day in and day out doesn't matter. Low-performing leadership teams don't focus enough on their problem solving and thinking on things that matter to the business's long-term success. They often focus on short-term issues, the constant fires that flare up, cutting costs at the expense of the value proposition, and low-value strategies. High-performing leadership teams focus their brainpower and resources on what matters to propel the business model forward. The opportunity to improve focus is in every conversation, meeting, document, message, plan, etc. It materializes in solid agendas, an outcome and output orientation, redirecting off-topic conversations to what matters, and prioritizing everything.

A big element of focused problem solving is prioritization. High-performing leadership teams are constantly prioritizing everything in their problem solving. They prioritize the issues they are going to problem solve, the drivers of those issues, the ideas they can pursue, and the solutions that will drive the most value.

Focus is hard. It takes a ton of discipline. Not only do we all need to focus problem-solving on the right things, but we also need to focus people or teams on being efficient through problem-solving. As a leadership team improves its focus on what matters, its efficiency and effectiveness dramatically improve on its journey to creating a leading business model.


2. FRAMING


How we frame problems is how we will solve those problems. Anything you or your team solve necessitates a framework to solve it. Frameworks are everywhere. They are in the school textbooks, best practices and methodologies we use in our work, the approach we take to solving a problem, and what you are currently reading is a framework for developing a high-performing leadership team.

Low-performing leadership teams struggle to frame problems and solutions correctly and, in turn, struggle with problem-solving. The leaders rely too heavily on their functional lens. They can't elevate or change perspective to see things through other, more appropriate lenses, creating inherent conflict since most bold strategies necessitate give and take from various functions. They don't frame things from the customers' perspective enough, or the implications to the business model, or are too myopic. 

High-performing teams use the correct framing and framework(s) to solve their problems. They constantly take a step back to deliberate and figure out how best to frame and approach a problem, understanding that the right approach will elegantly unlock robust solutions. The leaders of high-performing teams understand they must mature their framing beyond the methods they rely on in their functional roles as CFOs, COOs, CMOs, CROs, etc., and can't just be a hammer where everything looks like a nail. They must collaboratively determine the best approach for the problem at hand. This framing maturity of high-performing teams elevates the effectiveness and efficiency of their problem solving. 


3. LOGIC


Focus and framing provide structure and context for problem solving. Still, the hard work is the logic necessary to diagnose issues, ideate solutions properly, decide on the right path, and develop effective plans. The realm of logic is where leadership teams spend a considerable amount of their time in problem solving. Logic includes breaking things down, creating hypotheses, proving or disproving those hypotheses through deduction, induction, analysis, researching, organizing, and thinking through second and third-order implications. Our logic is our problem-solving DNA prevalent within our argumentation, writing, presentations, work product, discussions, meetings, and brainstorming sessions. One of the reasons why there are so many Ph.D. scientists at McKinsey (a little-known fact) is that they are masters of sound and profound logic. And, instead of applying their logical skill set towards furthering scientific research and discovery, they get to use it in business and strategy.

Logic is a tricky competency to evolve for a lower-performing leadership team. You can coach individuals and groups a bit up the maturity ladder through directive coaching on breaking down problems using a hypothesis tree, generating hypotheses, structuring and executing strong analyses and research, creating storylines and presentations using the Minto Pyramid Principle, utilizing prioritization matrices in decision-making, and training on logic, problem solving and analytics, but often you are fighting an uphill battle of trying to change people's engrained way of solving things built over their life. Their logic has gotten them far in their career, so why change now? CEOs in this situation often must replace one or two weaker performers with A-logic players, which creates a step-function improvement in the overall logic maturity of the team. 


4. CREATIVE IDEATION


Creative ideation is when the rubber meets the road in problem solving, during which great ideas and strategies percolate from our minds. You can focus on the right things, frame things correctly, and have sound logic, but if you and your team lack the creativity and struggle to connect the dots to ideate elegant solutions, it's all for not. Many people take the first idea that pops into their head and run with it, which is suboptimal and not conducive to growing the competency of ideation. Strong performers and top leadership teams spend the necessary time, effort, and mental energy expanding their option set of ideas and intellectually massaging those to a better state. I can't count the number of brainstorming sessions I've been in where the team pushes and often struggles through their problem solving until finally, the real creative and elegant solution emerges. The smiles and confidence created from these eureka moments give me much joy and satisfaction.

Maturing a leadership team's ability to be creative is easier than it may seem. However, foundational Management Maturity Model conditions will accelerate this maturity by having the right team and composition, a growth, value, and team mindset, strong governance, focused agendas, trust built through communication and collaboration norms, and high expectations. Management teams who complement each other in experience and skills with a collaborative team and growth mindset are typically strong at creativity, coming up with various differing ideas, and building on each other's ideas. Management teams that periodically meet to ideate their strategy and have built trust through communication and collaboration norms get in the practice they need to improve their ideation. We've all heard the saying, "Don't bring me problems; bring me solutions." The practice ground for people to get better at ideation is the space created when their managers exert this solution-orientation expectation on their team members. I often improve in-session ideation by asking the right questions, reframing things, or focusing the group's cognition on a vital vein of thinking.

It is typically uncomfortable to mature a leadership team's creative ideation because most leaders aren't usually challenged and pushed in their thinking, especially in a group setting. Still, that eureka moment is often just around the corner, waiting to be discovered in someone's mind. I often tell leadership teams to embrace the uncomfortable moments and questions because that is when elegant solutions emerge.


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