Greg Mathers

How Your Problems Should Strengthen You

Try an experiment. Think of three significant problems your company is facing that you have control over. This means you should be able to solve them. Examples could be: too high inventory costs, poor project management, disengaged employees, no clear strategy, no communication between departments, and so on. With the three problems in mind, think about how long your company has had them. Likely, your answer is a year or two, maybe longer.

These types of problems are important issues that managers devote significant resources to solving. Yet, the problems often go on unresolved. The irony here is that the real problem is a company’s inability to solve the problems it has control over. Why does this happen? What is going on?

​The answer lies in how we manage our organizations. At any point in time, a company will have hundreds of problems to solve. Mostly these problems are left to department managers to handle on their own. After all, a director of production should be responsible for handling production issues.

While this approach makes intuitive sense, the nature of how problems work their way through our companies means that leaving them to individual managers to deal with isn’t likely to work well. The diagram below shows why. It comes from Geary Rummler and illustrates the systemic nature of processes and workflow as they progress through an organization across functional departments.

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Certainly, this simplified view of the organization doesn’t begin to capture the multitude of processes, support processes, functions, systems, and people that are needed to get the work done in a company. Still, it allows you to quickly see that processes flowing across the organizational system mean a problem in one of the functions (for example function B) will impact other parts of the system and eventually make its way to the products and services to customers.

​To effectively solve problems means we should first understand how they impact the entire organizational system and then prioritize them. As these problems reach across departments, the task of understanding and prioritizing becomes far too complicated for one manager to accomplish. Instead, this should be an ongoing and collaborative activity by the management team in your company. Instead of having one manager dealing with 10 problems, we should have our team of managers regularly tracking problems and deciding which ones need to be solved in what order and by whom. This builds alignment across the company.

Instead of this, we have individual managers with a focus just on their departments deciding which problems to solve in which order. This results in different managers focusing on different areas and is a root cause of poor organizational alignment and poor communication.

Rather than expect your functional managers to solve their problems on their own, you should pool the problems, analyze them systematically as a team to understand their impact on the overall system, and then together agree on which problems get solved in which order and by whom.

At the Adizes Institute, we work with organizations and build such managerial systems. The results we see are enhanced problem-solving, improved communication and engagement, and greater innovation making the company healthier, stronger, and more competitive than otherwise.

Greg Mathers Certified associate and managing director Adizes Institute Latvia

1. Rummler, G. A. (2007). Serious Performance Consulting According to Rummler. John Wiley & Sons.

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