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It’s time to drop “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”

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Many managers like saying “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”.

It rolls off the tongue and sounds logical.

But it’s time to stop saying it. Why?

Because it risks creating an environment where problems are supressed.

We will all occasionally encounter problems that stump us. Maybe because it’s an unusual one. Or because we’re still learning the role or our confidence is down.

If we don’t feel safe to raise the problem without a solution, but we’ve tried and can’t identify a solution, we’ll tend to spin our wheels and sit on things.

This isn’t good. Because many big problems start out as small problems that can be painlessly fixed by including the right people early on.

A better approach is to reinforce with your team that they:

  • Must ensure problems within their area are solved effectively and quickly
  • Are empowered to solve problems independently where they can
  • Must ask the right people for help when they can’t solve the problem quickly on their own

The bottom line is that they must ensure problems are solved effectively and quickly. And that sitting on problems is not ok.

So, yes we should continue expecting our team members to be responsible for their work. To tackle their own problems.

But we should also expect them to ask for help as soon as they need it.

And helping team members solve challenging problems has multiple benefits. It brings the best minds together to develop solutions. And it provides coaching moments to further develop people’s problem-solving capability.

Instead of sending someone away next time, try:

  • Working with them to go through the problem and identify a solution
  • Reinforcing your confidence in their ability and your tolerance for (well-intentioned) mistakes
  • Asking them to have a go themselves next time

And, if someone sits on a problem before raising it with you, thank them for raising it, but hold them supportively accountable for sitting on it. Let them know that’s not ok.

None of this is to say that constantly pushing problems up is ok. It’s not, because it means the team member is either:

  • Avoiding responsibility for decision-making; or
  • They’re incapable of doing the role

Both are problems that need management attention.

But the appropriate response is calm, considered and supportive performance management. This is the manager themselves showing personal responsibility for their team’s performance.

An inappropriate response is to parrot “bring me solutions, not problems”. That does nothing to solve real problems, to develop the team member or boost their confidence, or to get the right people in the right roles.

One question for you

Think of someone in your team who tends to push problems up to you. What’s one supportive thing you could do to help them reduce this habit in the future?