Problems. Whether we choose to call them that or, (in the interests of putting a more positive spin on them), refer to them as ‘challenges’ they are part of life. In the workplace, where time is of the essence, there are many problems to be solved. And yet, much of that time can be wasted when people spend it working on the wrong problem. It happens.
I think it happens because of the very human tendency to jump right into action without employing the critical thinking required to ensure it will lead to a good solution.
For example, many moons ago I was part of a team-building course in Toronto. At one point, we were divided into groups and marched outside to tackle a project that involved climbing poles and traversing from one to the other with only the aid of ropes and some safety tackle. Our goal was to successfully overcome the obstacles and complete the course in the best possible time.
We failed miserably. Not only did we not complete the course, we failed to overcome most of the obstacles as well.
With booby prize shamefully in hand, we reviewed what we might have done differently. And, in thinking about it now, apart from doing just about everything wrong, we simply didn’t spend enough time in “O”.
“O” stands for observation. It is part of a mental process thatEdgar Schein refers to as ORJI in his book Process Consultation- Lessons for Managers and Consultants.
Here’s how it works.
Typically, when faced with a predicament, the human psyche follows a pattern.
We Observe and get a picture of what is going on.
We React emotionally to our understanding of what’s happening.
We Judge, and draw conclusions based on our understanding and how it makes us feel, and then:
We Intervene, making decisions and taking action based on what we see, feel and conclude.
In the case of our deplorable “team” effort, we spent perhaps a nano second really looking at the challenge ahead or trying to understand it. We asked no questions of either the coordinators or each other. We did not inspect the obstacle course or make any kind of effort to evaluate the resources available to us, human or otherwise. The loudest voice took the lead. The action oriented ones chomped at the bit to get out in the field and DO something. And, the reflectors, being completely overwhelmed by the noise and confusion registered what can only be described as insipid protests about making a plan first, an offering that, not surprisingly, fell on completely deaf ears
So, instead of looking like this: “ORJI” our process looked more like this: “oRJI”
Having said that, not surprisingly, staying in Observation is hard. When problems are pressing, emotions can work in opposition to rational thought, often wanting to take over at the most inadvisable times.
So, here are a few thoughts about how we might delay a move to action long enough to establish that the information we are working with is accurate.
Gather factual data about the nature and scope of the problem
This means suspending our feelings about what’s going on long enough to get some solid information.
Ask questions and, when finished asking, ask some more.
If the problem is particularly perplexing it’s important to go deeper and wider asking questions of people who are, or will be, affected by it.
Determine what we might be assuming about the situation and the people involved in it.
Giving some time to validating our assumptions is never a waste. Assumptions almost always hinder the process of getting at the true nature of a problem.
Make room for dissenting views.
This is simply about listening to every voice, be it soft or loud. And, often it is the dissenting view that holds the clue to a solution.
I guess the bottom line is this. We are always going to experience problems. Spending a little more time in “O”bservation will help us to address them in a way that provides the best chance of coming up with the best solution.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?