Problem Solving and Mistakes

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Organizational Psychology for Managers

Teams that don’t work when the manager isn’t around are legion. It’s a common problem, and common wisdom suggests that the team members lack motivation or are trying to goof off: when the cat’s away, and all that.

Common wisdom may sound good, but is often wrong. This is no exception.

Groups can get stuck when the leader becomes the chief problem solver. While it may seem efficient for a leader who is also an expert in the domain to quickly solve problems and instruct the team on what to do, this approach again has the drawback of not enabling the team to develop the necessary skills and confidence in those skills. If the team doesn’t think it can do the job, or isn’t willing to try, then it doesn’t matter how skillful they are at decision making and it doesn’t matter how clear the goals are. It’ll merely be that much clearer to them that they cannot do it. It may be necessary for leaders to walk through the problem solving process in front of their team and it will certainly be necessary for leaders to moderate the process.

Basically, teams need to solve problems as a team. This includes making the inevitable mistakes along the way. It is the act of making mistakes, learning from the experience, and moving on that enables the team to truly develop not just confidence in its skills but resilience as well. Without that experience, team confidence is brittle and team members considerably less willing to explore innovative solutions to problems. The broader organization’s cultural attitudes towards mistakes is going to play a significant role here.

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