Solving problems together
2/27/2013 By: Miguel Guhlin
Any CTO will tell you it’s important to have handy answers when others ask questions. The
question is, where do you go to find those answers? How do you keep the ideas front and center
in everyone’s mind, and how do you ensure that they don’t become your crusade alone?
Here is one imperfect approach, as well as some pitfalls and how to avoid them.
1. Gather together stakeholders who agree that a problem exists that needs resolution.
2. State that the goal of the meeting is to define the problem as clearly as possible, and seek
input from as many stakeholders as possible ahead of time.
3. Clarify the problem, forestalling any rush to solutions. Any solutions offered should serve to help
clarify the desired features in the solution that will be identified later—not as the end all. The goal is to get
everyone to flesh out the issues.
4. Your role as meeting facilitator is not to
run the process or be the leader or expert. Allow
yourself to be the learner, asking questions and
honestly seeking perspectives from others.
5. Decide who will facilitate the meetings,
set the schedule, and keep track of who-will do-
what-by-when, etc. This is more important
than you might imagine. No meeting is
effective unless the who-will-do-what-by when
is properly addressed.
6. Encourage people to voice their fears
and concerns about the process, the problem,
and how it’s been framed or set up, as well
as the solution finding and implementation
process. This is about dialogue and keeping
everyone being honest with each other.
7. Always ask, “What is best for the
organization, the people who will be affected
by this decision?” I have found that this helps
keep the focus on the greater good, rather than
getting caught up in the small stuff.
Pitfalls to avoid
• Pitfall #1 - Having “side” conversations
where team members interpret your listening
to them as agreement with their solution.
How to avoid this pitfall: Unequivocally state
that while this has been a conversation worth
having, it will need to occur again with the
entire team present. Be sure to point out that
you have not made any decisions about the
individual’s proposed solution at this time.
• Pitfall #2 - Picking a side or solution
in advance of the team meeting. This is such
an easy one to fall into, I’m not surprised
when organizations are already well into
implementation before they realize they didn’t
go through a process to solve a problem. How
to avoid this pitfall: Go through the problem definition
process and get as much input as
possible, especially from those who will have to
I don’t claim to be perfect. In fact, the
reason I have to spend time reflecting on how I
communicate is because I’m not very good at it.
To me, that kind of transparency and focus on
being a learner pays off because it re-acquaints
me with humility of my imperfection.
Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for
a 5A school district in Texas and past president
of the statewide TCEA Technology Education