When Should You Let Your Team Solve Problems Without You?

David Mendlewicz
August 3, 2017
When Should You Let Your Team Solve Problems Without You?

As a manager, success isn't calculated by how many problems you fix. It's about how you build a team that can solve problems themselves. Having to deal with low-priority problems is not only costly to your time, but also weakens your team. Best-selling author Joseph Grenny explains, via HBR, when it's best to assist in or step out of your team's problem solving.Question 1: Who should own this problem?Before you step in to solve an issue, think about how it will affect your team's future behavior. It's important that your team knows that they are able to "hold boundaries" in your absence. For example, instead of your team having you deal with an irate customer because you're an authority, you can teach them how to handle it, instead.Question 2: Do it now or do it right?Sometimes, it's better for the manager to take care of a situation if it's time-sensitive. However, even when you fix the problem, be sure to engage your team in the process so that they know what to do in a similar situation in the future.Question 3: What is the least I can do?If you have the step in, "find the lowest level of initiative for yourself," yet ensure that your team acts at their highest level. This offers them a teaching moment, so they will need less of your assistance as they move forward. For example, you can have an employee CC you on certain emails for you to review and provide feedback. Later on, after practice, they should be able to take you off the CC and handle those communications on their own.Question 4: What type of problem is it?If it's a content or pattern problem, employees can typically solve them on their own. A content problem is when the immediate concern is the issue itself, and a pattern problem is when the issue is recurring. If you have a healthy company, your employees should be able to solve these problems both internally (within their own team) and externally (with other departments).Last thought: It takes two to escalate.Before you help your team, ensure that everyone involved agrees that they need you to assist. This is coined as "mutually-agreed escalation." This way, you are used as a last resort. Of course, if there is a difference in power between employees, then it's best for you to step in. In a peer-level problem, however, it's typically better for those employees to have a dialogue with each other.One of the key factors to a high-performance team is peer accountability. Sometimes, it's better to take a step back and allow your team to address and solve issues on their own.  You can access the full article here.

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