Solving problems together

Any CTO will tell you it’s important to have handy answers when others ask questions.
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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?

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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 implement it.

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 Coordinators group.

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