Organizations are being challenged to respond to a series of crises, not the least of which is a global pandemic. These challenges require organizations to respond in creative ways outside of typical work patterns. Here is a framework for organizing your team to face these challenges.
Working On the Business, Not In the Business
Organizations are designed for a purpose, to fulfill a mission. An organization’s people, processes and products/services are all aligned to deliver on that mission, forming behavior patterns that enable the organization to become ever more efficient on that delivery. But what happens when the organization is faced with a challenge that falls outside of that mission? Most organizations are not designed with the overheard or capacity to rethink, re-invent and rollout entirely new sets of behaviors that adapt to the challenge. How does your organization respond when faced with a challenge that requires it to work on the business, not in the business?
Problem Solving Framework
When faced with an extraordinary challenge, your leadership can benefit from adopting a flexible problem-solving framework that serves as a guide for the team to work through the challenge. Chapter 2 of my book Teamwork 9.0 presents a framework designed for these types of challenges. The framework consists of nine steps. Here’s how you can use it to address the challenge of working during a pandemic.
Step 1—Problems and Goals
The first step in problem solving is to list the problems that challenge your organization—reduced productivity, falling sales, distracted customers/vendors/employees, broken supply chains, broken delivery channels, new workplace regulations/guidelines, etc. Each organization faces a unique set of problems that need to be overcome. Remember, the problems that get listed are the problems that get solved, so be sure and capture all the important issues.
Next, envision how the world could be when the problems are solved. Remembering the mission of your organization, what is now possible in light of this disruption? How can your organization emerge even better and stronger than before?
Step 2—Build the Team
By its very nature, the challenge of working during a pandemic affects everyone in your organization. The team responsible for leading the organization through this challenge should have representatives for each of the organization’s constituents. Customers can be represented with sales and customer service leaders. Your vendors can be represented with leaders from procurement. Each department will want to participate in the initiative—operations, IT, human resources, finance, product development, etc. With your team established, loop back to Step 1 and make sure that the problems facing each stakeholder group are listed and their visions for the future are captured.
By now your team is excited to share ideas about how to solve the problems and realize the vision for the future. During ideation, you want to capture ALL ideas—dismiss nothing. Here is your chance to tap into the creative potential of your team, and you want to encourage everyone to participate. Ensuring that everyone has a chance to contribute their ideas and listen to others’ ideas moves the group towards finding solutions that work for everyone.
Step 4—Positive Ideas
Once you have a rich set of ideas to draw upon, you will want to explore a few ideas more deeply. The team can determine the high priority ideas to pursue by deciding democratically with a vote. Deciding in this way, the team will choose the ideas that have the most positive energy behind them, energy that the team will need as they work towards the solution.
Step 5—Analyze the Ideas
Each idea delivers a benefit with a cost. In this step, the team performs the cost/benefit analysis to arrive at the top one or two ideas that will deliver the greatest positive impact to the organization. Each stakeholder will have distinct perspectives on the pros and cons of each idea, and it’s important that every perspective is considered at this phase. Out of this step will emerge your top candidate for a solution set along with alternatives, should they be necessary.
During this step, you also research all pertinent data related to the effort. In the case of returning to work, examples of such resources include:
Step 6—Plan for Success
Having identified the best path to the goal, the team can develop the detailed plans for getting there. In this step you determine who will do what when, laying out the timeline for implementation to solve the problems and realize the goals. Each group in your organization will contribute to implementation, so it’s crucial to have them participate in building the plan.
Step 7—Promote the Plan
Prior to implementation, the team needs to socialize the plan with the organization. Start with context by highlighting the current problems and presenting the vision for the future. Then, share the details of the path forward to the “new normal.” If all stakeholders have been well represented to this point, then the organization will embrace the proposal thereby lowering any barriers during implementation.
With everyone on board, your organization is now ready to implement the plan and transform the organization, creating the organizational systems, processes and behaviors that will fulfill the mission and thrive in the new environment. While steps 1 though 7 may have taken as long as a few days each, Step 8 will often be the longest step as the team works through the plan. If challenges arise during implementation, the team can revisit previous steps to get back on track and back to implementation.
Step 9—Debrief and Harmonize
What’s working well? What needs adjustment? In this step you reflect on the transformation that has taken place and determine what needs smoothing out. Referring back to the list of problems and goals from Step 1, you can score your effort. You may find that some problems are not adequately solved. Perhaps new problems arose. Rather than a line from start to finish, think of problem solving as a circle—a cycle of continuous improvement getting you ever closer to meeting all your goals.
The New Normal
There is a natural order to problem solving. When faced with a large challenge, your team will go through all nine steps listed above. By taking the team through each step deliberately and systematically, you will arrive at a satisfactory outcome much more quickly and with much greater stakeholder buy-in. Doing so creates effective and lasting solutions for your organization.
What methods are you using with your team to adapt to the new working environment? What’s working well? What suggestions would you make for others?