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How to teach employees to solve problems

If your employees are bringing their problems to you, you have taught them that you will solve their problems.

You can easily get your time back and boost the effectiveness of your team by allowing them to solve their own problems.

Warning, this will feel very uncomfortable for both you and the employee at the beginning, but if you work through it, you will be much better off.

1. Set the stage

First, let the employee know that you realize that you are the bottleneck to solving problems, and that you are going to try to hold yourself accountable to let the employees solve problems on their own. This phrasing puts the onus on you to make the change, and not on them to read your mind.

Now you can hold yourself accountable to making changes, and now the employee won't be caught off guard when you do this for the first time.

2. Always ask them "What do you think?"

When an employee brings you a problem, WHETHER YOU THINK THEY CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEM OR NOT, ask them what they think. Did you catch that? Always ask them what they think, or what they would do, or what they think we should do, etc. This will train the employee to think about solutions before bringing you a problem. And they will surprise you, they are more capable than you think.

Then, when they say their opinion of what should be done, filter it through your mind. Their solution will not mirror exactly what you would do in this situation, and that's okay! If you think their solution has any potential to work and if you think they will learn something and become better in the process, let them do it!

3. Let them do it their way

If at all possible, lean into their solution and give them your full support to go do. Remember that you don't need to do it for them, you just need to tell them that you support them and they can go get it done. 

Now if their solution is just not viable for whatever reason, you want to ask them questions and nudge them toward a better solution without handing them a solution. This will take some practice, but because you told them you are trying something new and trying to not be the bottleneck for problems, you get a little bit of grace as you are trying to figure this part out. Then ask them to come back and report back to you how it went.

4. Close the feedback loop

When you ask an employee to do something, always ask them to report back. By asking them to report back, you are creating an accountability loop to ensure that something does get done. This trains the employee to only bring a something to you if THEY are willing to do something about it. And it trains them to bring a solution to you that THEY are willing to execute. The more you remove yourself as a bottleneck to progress, the more efficient your team will be.

When they come back to you and report back, engage with them and hear their update. Ask if the problem is still active or if it has been solved. Then asked them what they learned. Spend a few moments to review the experience with them.

If you think a similar problem can be solved without them coming to you next time, then tell them that and remind them that you trust them to solve problems like their on their own or with their team.

5. Trust them. Build their confidence.

If you want them to bring problems like this to you in the future, be sure to tell them that. But I'd ask that you think long and hard if it is really necessary for you to be involved in the problem solving. Perhaps you want them to come and let you know when they SOLVE a problem like this in the future, versus having them come to you before they solve the problem.

 

Sounds like a small difference, but if you train your employees to solve their own problems you will be interrupted significantly less. Now when they have solved a problem, you will be able to get an update during a scheduled meeting versus getting interrupted.

Jennifer Biggs
Jennifer Biggs
Jennfier has a passion for leading and motivating teams through cultural transformations. She believes that people come to work everyday to be great. Through her operational experience at P&G Manufacturing, she has seen the true potential of an engaged and empowered team. She joined Ampogee in 2018 after 7 years of Manufacturing Operations experience. She has an Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Chemical Engineering from NC State University.

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