“When you see problem-solving as part of the learning cycle, you transform the (re)solution meeting from a chore to an essential, energizing aspect of your business.” – David Pearl
In The Reasons Why People Meet, I introduced seven different types of meeting. In this post, we examine (re)solution meetings.
The main purpose of a (re)solution meeting is to solve a problem, and problems are just a fact of everyday existence.
As American psychiatrist Theodore Rubin said, “The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”
David Pearl explains (re)solution meetings in detail from pages 199 to 206 of Will There Be Donuts?; this post borrows/adapts heavily from those pages, but is certainly not meant to be a replacement – and all credit to Pearl for his keen insights and useful advice.
Accepting the reality of Rubin’s statement, Pearl advises that, “When you see problem-solving as part of the learning cycle, you transform the (re)solution meeting from a chore to an essential, energizing aspect of your business.”
I think that’s a pretty powerful statement that creates valuable perspective. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something at work along the lines of, “Well, it’s tough, but it’s a pretty interesting and exciting problem to solve!”
I really do live for that stuff…just leaving problems in my wake as I move relentlessly forward.
The table below outlines “the why” and “the who” of (re)solution meetings.
||Leverage intelligence networks using the wisdom of crowds: invite one representative from every function or department that’s affected by the problem|
Expanding a little bit upon “the who”, Pearl tells us that, “It’s helpful to think of the people who attend a problem-solving meeting as a series of components you are assembling into a mechanism which is far smarter and quicker than any of the individuals involved.”
“It’s helpful to think of the people who attend a problem-solving meeting as a series of components you are assembling into a mechanism which is far smarter and quicker than any of the individuals involved.”
By including reps from each function or department that’s impacted, you’re ensuring different views are represented and – crucially – each rep will have a stake in getting the problem solved.
As I write this post, I’m planning the agenda for a technical training conference, and I’m assigning teams (not committees!) to develop the material for each of the agenda items. These teams include representatives from each function who will be in attendance at the conference, for exactly the same reasons as Pearl outlines above: I want each team to have a real sense of purpose and ownership, and to make sure their needs are represented in the specific curriculum. They know their exact needs better than I know them, so I would be foolish to just hunker down and produce a tonne of content on my own.
The How of (Re)Solution Meetings
Pearl recommends getting away from the routines of everyday life, as a way to elevate ourselves above our everyday thinking. Let’s break the routine a bit and try to get some new ideas and approaches flowing.
Einstein’s got a famous quote that runs along the same lines: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
A final note on “the how”: a neutral location is especially important if the meeting is about conflict resolution.
The What of (Re)Solution Meetings
“The effectiveness of your problem-solving meeting is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask in the meeting.”
I often find that what I contribute to meetings, especially when topics are complex, is just a list of probing or solicitous questions.
Most of the time, I genuinely don’t know the answer in advance, so this approach isn’t me being all coy and Socratic, but I’m genuinely curious in the answers; plus, I’m often the only one who asks these questions – whether that’s a product of experience, expertise, ignorance, or mischievousness is left as an exercise for the reader.
But my point (as is Pearl’s) is this: “The effectiveness of your problem-solving meeting is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask in the meeting.”
Conveniently enough, Pearl provides us with a helpful list of questions to get the problem solving flowing:
- What do we have to assume for this to be true?
- What happens if we do nothing?
[side note: I find that people often forget that we’re fundamentally choosing between alternatives. “Doing nothing” is one such alternative, but it should damn well ‘happen’ by conscious choice rather than by indecision, fear of being wrong, fear of accountability, etc. And now, back to our regularly scheduled questions…]
- What would we do, if we could not fail?
- If we imagine a future where this is solved, what do we have to do to get there? (reminds me a bit of this post)
- Is this problem, that we are trying to solve, the right problem?
- How are we, the problem-solvers, contributing to this problem?
- If this problem had no solution, what could we learn anyway?
- Is this an either/or problem?
- Are we actually disagreeing?
It might be worthwhile to have those questions in your back-pocket next time you’re in a problem solving meeting.