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What to do when you have no clue


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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 11/2022 vom 26.10.2022

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“If you work in a team, help is just around the corner”

There are times for all of us when we just don’t have a clue what to do. We are stuck with a problem and don’t see any way out. We feel like we’re staring at a blank wall.

The great thing, if you work in a team, is that help is just around the corner, in the next office or on the next screen. Your colleagues can offer great support, and that’s why I’d like to present a powerful tool that’s so simple and straightforward it needs no preparation, and after one hour, you’ll walk away with new ideas and stronger solutions. It also strengthens the trust within your team and your ability to solve problems.

First, however, make sure that a certain degree of trust already exists, as one of your team members will have to admit to the boss that they don’t know what to do. Trust is also a prerequisite for being able to come up ...

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... with lots of ideas, which is essential for this exercise.

The first time I did this exercise for myself, I was blown away by the benefits it provided. I didn’t just gain lots of new solutions to my problem, but also felt much more confident that I’d be able to meet the challenge.

The next time you feel stuck, ask your team for about an hour of their time, book a meeting room (or organize a videoconference), have pens, paper, sticky notes and a flip chart or pinboard ready (or an online whiteboard), and then, follow these instructions:

1. The rules

Before you start, it’s important that everyone agrees to the rules:

• Be open

• Treat the information shared in the meeting as confidential

• Appreciate different points of view

• Be neutral

• Engage actively

“The first time I did this exercise, I was blown away by the benefits it provided”

2. The roles

There is one person who is presenting their case. Everybody else acts as consultants. It may help if one of the consultants takes notes for everyone.

3. The case

Note that we’re not calling it a “problem” any more, but a “case”. That doesn’t change the situation, of course, but it does change how people see it. “Case” is neutral, whereas “problem” has some negative connotations.

If you are the one presenting the case, make sure you provide all the essential details. Tell the consultants what you have tried to do to solve it. In this part of the exercise, the consultants are just listening and taking notes.

At the end of this section, the case presenter poses one clear question that he or she wants help with.

My example was: “I have a team workshop, but the team is divided into two groups because of capacity and language constraints. How can I make them feel solidarity; feel that they are one team?”

4. The questions

Now, it is the consultants’ turn to speak up and ask any questions they wish in order to better understand the case.

Make sure that you don’t jump straight to solutions in this phase. It’s all about gathering and clarifying information to have a solid basis for the upcoming steps.

5. Ideas

Now comes the magic. If you’re used to brainstorming to find solutions, this step might surprise you. Here, make sure that the consultants cannot hear or see the person who presented the case. Place that person behind the pinboard or flip chart (or have them turn off their camera and microphone).

Why is this important? Remember the rule “appreciate different points of view”. The aim here is for the consultants to come up with completely new perspectives. The case presenter’s first reaction to those ideas might be skeptical. If the consultants see or hear signs of disagreement, they might stop following this path, which means that potentially good ideas may not come to light.

Most of the time, however, this is where the gold is hidden. Often, the solution can be found where you’ve taken a quick, superficial look, didn’t like what you saw and moved on. It’s helpful when people with a fresh perspective take a second look.

As you might have guessed, the role of the person who presented the case is passive in this phase. He or she should stay silent, listen and take notes — especially if they hear a helpful idea or hint.

If you need a break, it makes sense to take one now, after the ideas section.

6. Insights

This step belongs to the case presenter again. That person now shares the insights they’ve learned, what new takeaways they have gained, how they feel now and what they plan to do next.

When I did this, I had three concrete approaches to pursue. And even more important: I felt that I was riding a wave of new momentum. I gained confidence and a sense of competence, and I had new and varied perspectives on the challenge. The one I liked the most was that I shouldn’t see the situation as a problem, but rather as reality or even as an opportunity.

7. Reflection

Now that the work has been done, it’s always a good idea to reflect on what you have achieved as a team. Asking people how they feel, what they liked most about the experience, what surprised them or what they would do differently next time is really helpful.

One of the reactions I hear almost every time is: “I’m so grateful that I have you as my colleagues. I don’t feel alone with this situation any more.” For many participants, it is the clear structure and sequence of steps that puts them at ease and powers their creativity.

Although the exercise can be done in an hour, it’s better to plan 90 minutes. Above all, the ideation section should be long enough so that people don’t feel rushed. However, it’s also important that you have clear time limits for each section to ensure that people stick to the topic and don’t go into too much detail.

The reason I like this exercise so much is that one person gets concrete help and support for a problem they are facing. The other team members work together as consultants and feel needed and supportive. Usually, some of the consultants realize that they’re facing a similar situation, and now they’ve got some great ideas about how to deal with it. How great is that?

Now, it’s up to you. The next time you feel stuck, grab your team for an hour or so and do some problem-solving and team-building at the same time. It’s worth it.

ESSENTIAL PHRASES

It’s not always easy to ask for help. At the same time, we may want to offer our help to someone but worry they could feel offended. Here are some phrases that might be useful in those situations.

Asking for help

• Iknow you’re busy, but could you help me with something?

• If you have a moment, could I ask for your help with this matter?

• Icould really use a hand with this file. Would you mind?

Explaining that there’s a problem

• Ithink we may have a safety issue on our hands.

• Something’s not right with our website, but I can’t see what the problem is.

• I’ve tried everything, but I can’t seem to get this to work properly.

Offering advice

• Have you tried...?

• If I were you, I would...

• Ithink your best option is to...

Showing gratitude

• What would I have done without you? Thanks so much!

• Ireally appreciate your help. Thanks.

• You helped me out of a tight spot there. I hope I can return the favour one day.