Have you been in a situation where something has gone wrong, either you have missed a deadline, lost the contract or for some reason, something is just not working? If an issue arises, does your team get stuck in the problem space and cannot move into the solution space? Can you sense the finger pointing? I should note that finger pointing is not something that you can really observe, unless you find yourself in a very dysfunctional team. It’s something that you can feel. If you feel it, I want you to do this. I call it the Two Circles method.

Step 1. Bring all your team members together, from leadership to that new member, all into one conversation.
Clearly say, “I want to know what is happening with this project” and draw two circles on a board. In today’s climate, maybe you are working remotely and facilitating this conversation online. That shouldn’t stop you, don’t fall into the problem space. Try a whiteboard. If you’re like me, working with clients. I don’t have a board where I’m sitting at home so I’m going to use my hands, with gesture, to separate my room into “this is our problem space” and “this is our solution space”.

Step 2. Start listening to your team.
Let’s start with the case, what is the problem? Talk about the problems that we want to capture in the ‘problem space’. You definitely want to have the two circles visible and allow everyone around the table to talk about it. You might notice that some people are repeating the problem, some people present evidence and some people are the historians in your team.
I’m not asking you to deep dive into the issue. This is simply an exercise of listening and capturing problems from different people’s point of view. Everybody gets the same airtime, so go around the table, physical or virtual.
Step 3. Here is the next prompting question, “is this a good time to look at options?”
Glance around the room and see who is nodding and leave it at that. What are the options that can be used to solve this problem? Allow your team the ability to start thinking; maybe we can do this or maybe we can do that.
This is where it gets important, when you catch your team restating the problem, I want you to politely stop them and say “I’ve noticed we’ve captured that, you’re talking about this” and point to where it has been captured. Say, “okay, we have captured that and talked about it, what are you suggesting?”. This will help them stay in solution mode. You can say, “give us an option” or “what can we do?”. It will help shift the mood, lift the energy of the room.
Step 4. Of the options, which is the best one?
You’re not telling your team what to do, you are asking for their recommendation on the best option to proceed with. From this, you can find clear actions and close the session effectively.

I learned this method from the CEO of TNT Europe. Did you know that when he was appointed as the head of TNT Europe, they were experiencing a lot of brand issues? It might seem an irrelevant example to this case, but he had inherited a dysfunctional leadership team. They were blaming each other and no one was offering any solutions. In their daily meetings, everyone was saying “it’s their problem”, “it’s their problem” and nothing was discussed as an action. One day, he finally stood up and drew two circles. He asked for their problems, mapped them out and picked one to solve. “What can we do now?”, a simple question to align your teams to work together towards a common issue.
Isn’t that interesting? Over a two year period, he completely shifted the dynamic of the organization. His leadership team ultimately became a close working team.
I hope this idea has sparked some interest in you, remember the two circles. Try to make them physical and visual, this will give you the best impact. If you know a team that experiences this, that they are constantly in a problem state rather than a solution state, please share this video with them. We learn best when we receive something from those we know. It is much more effective than going to a course, reading a book or sitting in front of an instructor telling us what to do. The more we learn together, the more we grow together. Thank you so much and hope to talk to you soon.

Two circles & one bridging questions!!

How to skilfully move your team from problem to solution.