Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations
“Where a minute before a handful of tech guys could agree on almost nothing, it took us only five minutes to identify the future perfect on which we all agreed.” Niklas Tiger. Managing Director of Hi5, Sweden.
How many meetings have you been in where you have tried to tackle a problem in a team and it just kept going round in circles?
The following is a true story related by Niklas Tiger, Managing Director of Hi5, an IT organisation in Sweden that provides outsourced IT services to customers over the Internet. Hi5 is not a client of ours but Niklas has given us permission to create an article as an example of how the Solutions Focus approach to tackling problems and change can work. (Please click on the link to read an article on Solutions Focus). I have adapted the wording for clarity slightly; otherwise this is his story, which, as it is from an organisation, I thought would be valuable for fellow Gorillas. If you would rather read this article in an illustrated short ebook, please click here.
Implementing Solutions Focus (SF) as a way of managing change in our organisation and also in collaboration with customers, really has transformed our company. A very low tech down to earth example of this happened as recently as this morning, which is proof that SF is able to make huge impact in the everyday life of any organisation.
This is what happened:
Seven people gathered in a meeting to discuss a potential security issue with our customer connected networks (making it secure is important of course).
What usually happened before our "SF era" began in January 2012, also happened at the start of this meeting. As soon as we had introduced the topic and free discussions began, we started to define the problem. The conversation went something like this:
“Is this really a problem?” Some disagree that it is. “How much of a problem is it?” There were many different ideas on that. “What is the REAL problem?” It turns out there are many potential security issues within the defined topic. “What other related problems can we also bring into the discussion?” There were a few suggested. “Are these problems really connected?” We couldn't agree. “Why haven't we already done something about it? Was someone to blame…?” The list goes on...
Our technical people are VERY skilled and where we usually end up is in an endless "battle of skills" focused on who can best define the problem using knowledge, experience, hearing what has happened elsewhere, or even the loudest voice as the ammunition. Focus gradually shifts to winning the discussion and the reason for being there in the first place (actually creating some positive change) is forgotten at the same time.
In the days before we began using SF, that would usually be where we would end our meeting, realizing we had run out of time! And maybe, in the worst case, we would hand out the task of finally deciding on what our real problem was to a smaller group, before we would get together for another meeting.
Eventually, we would of course agree on something and move forward with some remedy for "the problem", but it was very time consuming and many times it would end up unresolved due to competition with the many other things that need our time and attention.
Well, now we have SF and today was different! After 15 minutes of this problem talk, I realised what was about to happen. So, instead I suggested we parked the "defining the problem discussion" for a minute and instead turned our attention to what the situation would look like if we started out with a blank piece of paper and designed something new that was "the best of the best".
Where a minute before a handful of tech guys could agree on almost nothing, it took us only five minutes to identify the future perfect on which we all agreed. My reflection on this was that I have probably heard our people defining this problem at least 20 times at different occasions over the past 2 - 3 years, but I have never heard anyone define the solution - and all the time it has been only five minutes away!?
We then went on to identify what we already have in place that will help us move in the desired direction, and we found a couple of obvious clues along with ONE that very few knew about but that will be an essential building block in moving forward.
Finally, we listed some possible next steps and ended up with many things we could do, both small and large. We selected three that we could get on with immediately, where one of these was a first little step towards a bigger one identified. We ONLY do small steps these days...
Before ending the meeting, I asked if anyone had anything to add. There was nothing! No more need to go back to define the problem. And the smile on people's faces told me that for the first time there was true belief that we would this time really "fix" the problem. At least we had a very good beginning! The rest will be history in a couple of weeks - that I know by now!
If you have a long-standing problem in your organisation, perhaps this will demonstrate that you do not have to have endless discussions about the problem to arrive at a solution. Often the problem definition is different for each person in the meeting and achieving agreement is almost impossible.
Sometimes though, for example if there is a physical problem with a piece of machinery, defining the problem correctly is important, but often, SF can work more easily.
Read the article on Solutions Focus mentioned in the opening paragraphs, or look on my web site http://www.yesand.eu under Knowledge / Case Studies for further information on Solutions Focus. Or please write to set up a discussion on SF.
Enjoy your next meeting.
John Brooker I Facilitate, Innovate, Transform.
Call: +44 20 8869 9990
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