Secret To Problem Solving



While working with a client last week, I ran into some glitches on how I should design a training program for their leaders. We knew what the topic was, but it was unclear what the objectives were. Although they had committed to being a 10X organization, as described by Jim Collins in his renowned book, Great By Choice, I wasn’t certain how to connect the learning to that theme. So we decided to bring in the senior leader of the team to hash out our direction instead of working with only the information I originally received. And boy was I glad we waited!


Funny thing about bringing in more voices-ideas expand and dialogue explodes! Collaboration can transform problem solving from being stuck to finding a creative solution.


Yet, there are some leaders who are afraid to open up their fact gathering because they think they need to own a process. They obsess that they will lose control or that their ideas will get lost. Great leaders know that just the opposite is true-the more suggestions, the stronger the final outcome.  I’m not saying that a collection of unlimited opinions is the best strategy either. So how do you collaborate with your team to cultivate the best problem solving strategy and solution?



As all effective leaders know, we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. So make sure you have the best talent with the right skill set. Have faith in your team members- your future leaders. It’s ok if there are diverse personalities and backgrounds as long as each individual’s talents and strengths are valued. A culture of trust can enable a difficult problem solving session.



If we want to brainstorm new and innovative suggestions, then we have to be welcoming. How would you feel if someone “put down” the ideas you felt were important to the team’s success? Would you want to continue contributing or might you just shut down? We also know the “piggy-back” effect on idea generation; ideas beget even better ideas. Being judgmental not only can eliminate valuable suggestions, but can also result in an inferior end result.



Ask for input from your team to create benchmarks to apply to all of your proposals. By using certain standards to evaluate, we deveIop a helpful way to look at the recommendations. I have found that devising a visual grid can be helpful to whittle down the more powerful concepts.



Whenever collaborating with others, we need to be aware of our choice of words. Instead of saying: ” I think that is a good point, BUT…”, say, ” I think that is a good point AND I would add…” The word AND is inclusive and shows we have value for what others are contributing.  Instead of saying, ” That way of doing it is wrong!”, say ” I think we might want to explore this way too.”


Are you ready to be a collaborative leader? How have you collaborated with a team?


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19 thoughts on “Secret To Problem Solving

  1. Terri, this is a great post. I have always learned that we as leaders only know so much and it is our teams that are out there day in and day out that have so much to contribute. In meetings that I run which my team is in there, I often give the floor to them, because I want to empower them to give their ideas, which most of the time they have fantastic stuff to contribute. As leaders, listen to your teams… They have lots of great ideas!

  2. Terri!
    I have been working on the “negative speak” for awhile for my own leadership abilities! Thank you for the “and” instead of the “but”!! I consider this my lesson for the day. (!! Really!)

  3. Great post Terri!

    Leaders do set the tone for collaboration and when all are committed to collaborating and opening up possibilities emerge.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Always a pleasure to read you.


  4. What a wonderful way to run your team, Cynthia, by giving them the floor to share ideas and suggestions! You are so right that empowering them to speak up and feel safe about offering their opinions, will result in outstanding end results. Some leaders have a difficult time relinquishing the floor and they end up with only their input. They miss out on so much. Thanks for your insights!

  5. You are such an eager learner, Amber-Lee and always open to new ideas! Negative language can often stop a powerful idea from becoming an even better one. It just takes practice and before you know it, “and” becomes a way to communicate. I appreciate you and your great additions to my post! Thanks!

  6. You are so right, Johann, that leaders do set the tone for collaboration. What happens sometimes is that insecure leaders who are fearful of including other team member’s ideas , stop the process. The result is truly an incomplete product that doesn’t necessarily reflect the team’s full abilities. Team members also feel unvalued. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Terri – First of all, your example is fantastic. Too often we’re afraid to ask for clarification and go with what we’ve got and miss the mark. You offer four important strategies here but I really love how you stress it’s important to use a common criteria to narrow down solutions. I’ve worked for people that it felt like they used darts to make the final decisions and not any thoughtful criteria. Great suggestion to not only solicit ideas from the team but also criteria to make the final decision on the course of action.

  8. Great post, Terri, and key actions we need to take to be really collaborative and productive in moving ideas forward. One to add is the bigger purpose in what we are doing. To often, people get bogged down by their personal beliefs or biases and are not thinking about the larger organizational beliefs, mission, and direction. Raising up our view raises up and opens up the opportunity for better collaboration.

    Thanks again for raising the bar of collaboration!


  9. You bring out some fantastic points Terri. My first favorite is use positive language which is so easy to forget especially when one is trying to meet deadlines. Second favorite is be own to ideas, yes that sets the platform for collaboration, solutions and growth.

    Team and employee engagement with an environment as you have mentioned is reinforced.

    Thank you for sharing your experience

  10. Alli, the truth is sometimes I am reluctant to get more information and then I end up with missing pieces before solving a problem or making a decision. We need to not worry what other’s may think about our requests, and do what is right for us. In terms of choosing criteria, that too has to been done in a methodical way, making sure the essential measurement points are used. Could you tell I am working on a problem solving/decision making training? Thanks for your additions and your enduring support!

  11. Jon, your point about looking at the bigger purpose is well taken! Vision must always be in the forefront when problem solving and decision making as it keeps a team on the right path. I have seen teams derail when they get caught up in petty nonsense and accusatory language. I think leaders don’t always see the essential value of collaboration, and don’t know how to effectively collaborate. Thanks so much for your comments! Terri

  12. I agree with you, Lalita that positive language goes a far way when we collaborate- it actually helps to maintain respectful interactions as well as a trusting environment. Deadlines can be stressful and I have seen teams destroy each other by blaming others for missed deadlines. We each need to take responsibility and leaders need to help guide the problem solving process in a healthy way. Thanks so much for your insightful additions!

  13. Such an inspiring post, Terri! One of the things that you modeled indirectly was asking for help. This demonstrates a high level of security, humility and trust in the process. It is so key for leaders to be able do this so that they can make use of all the other great secrets you recommend here — being open, trusting, using criteria and positive language.

  14. Thank you for sharing the idea that I was modeling, asking for help, Blair! I absolutely was and I also encourage input whenever I can get it. When people shut down receiving information from others, I think they are disconnecting and showing disrespect. It is up to us to sift through the suggestions and choose what works for our particular projects. As always, I appreciate you and your wonderful additions!

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