One of the nice things about working in an office environment is the camaraderie. Especially if we run into a problem. We can leave our cubicle and find someone to talk to or help us figure it out. Even in a telework situation, we can pick up the phone and chat with a co-worker. In a self-managing environment, that dynamic changes, and we have to work through our problems.
The first step in solving our problems is understanding whether the situation we’re faced with is really a problem. In the book “Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems,” author Dr. Barry Johnson talks about the differences between problems and polarities. His theory is that sometimes we try to use a problem-solving approach on something that’s really not a problem at all.
My definition of a problem is “the difference between what you have and what you want.” Examples of problems include: “How do I get to I-95?” or “Should we merge with XYZ Company?” In these instances, once you get to I-95 or merge (or not) with XYZ Company, the problem is solved.
By contrast, a polarity occurs when you have two opposing forces. For example, centralization versus decentralization is a polarity. This is a polarity because neither centralization or decentralization are wrong – they are just two different approaches. And even when you choose one, you still have ongoing dynamics to deal with (translation: it’s not over.) Dr. Johnson elaborates in his book how polarities are not problems and the specifics of how to manage the opposing forces of a polarity. It’s a fascinating read.
But for now, let’s focus on problems. You’ve analyzed the situation and you know you have a problem. What’s next? Well, here’s a three-step approach to working through the problem. This is known as the STP model of problem-solving.
STP is an acronym for Situation – Target – Proposal. Think about a problem that you’re currently experiencing. You can ask yourself the following questions to work through the problem:
Step One: Assess the Situation
During the Situation phase, you have the opportunity to examine the circumstances. Ask yourself the “who, what, where, when, why” questions to fully understand the matter. Also, don’t forget to ask questions about the extent of the problem, any patterns that might exist, and what the cause is. You’re able to collect any relevant information, understand the dynamics of the problem, and the possibilities in terms of changing the situation. Using the example above, you’re driving along and realize you need to be on I-95. Congratulations, you know the situation.
Step Two: Identify the Target
The next phase, allows you to identify the Target, or the end to the problem (i.e. arriving at I-95). This is ultimately what you want to accomplish or your vision of what would happen if the problem were solved. Identifying the Target will also help to clarify the issues involved in solving the matter. You can also see if there is anything you would like to avoid – like getting lost on the way to I-95 or maybe not hitting any toll roads.
Step Three: Generate Proposals
Now that you’ve accurately assessed the problem and determined the Target, use the Proposal step as a way to prepare the action plan to solve the situation. This is when you generate ideas and develop a plan to solve the problem. Examples would be using your GPS, downloading a Google map on your phone or stopping for directions.
The STP model is a systematic method that can guide you through any problem.
In the first two posts of this series, we talked about knowing ourselves and doing meaningful work. Being able to solve problems adds another layer to our self-management competencies. When we’re able to understand our strengths and weaknesses and apply those in the context of work, it helps us correctly assess, develop and implement a solution to the problems we face.
But what happens when that problem is another person? Well, that’s our next self-management quality – conflict management.
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby2