Evolution of problem solving

Photo by Johannes Plenio

The maturity of an organization and the relationship towards managers can be analyzed well by how problems are dealt with. This quickly shows how open the culture of collaboration is and how mature the employees are.

A good friend once defined the 6 evolution stages of problem-solving:

Stage 1: Ignoring

Douglas Adams had already beautifully described how to make things invisible: you simply define them as “somebody else’s problem“.

We know this all too well from our professional lives. We recognize a problem, but we ignore it – whether out of convenience of a too complex error reporting process or out of fear of sanctioning by an irascible boss. It’s easier to say “That’s not my problem – I’m not responsible for that” and move on.

Stage 2: Report a problem

In this case there is at least some level of trust with the boss. The employee recognizes a problem and reports it to the supervisor.

He is paid higher and should decide what should happen. “Boss, we have a problem!” – meaning “Boss, you have a problem!”

Stage 3: Report impact

The employee has given initial thought to the problem case and has reflected on its effects. What is the impact? How serious is the incident? Therefore, he can already give a qualified damage report. “Boss, we have a problem with the authentication module. All customers are currently unable to log in. We urgently need to do something”.

On this basis, the supervisor can already assess whether there is a serious danger and immediate need for action. Yet, it’s still up to him.

Stage 4: Provide options

In the next stage, the employee already moves on to solving the problem. He has recognized the problem with his criticality and gives several solution options.

Ideally, he does this together with a qualified effort and risk assessment or at least an initial indication. On this basis, the supervisor can then decide how to proceed.

Stage 5: Suggest a solution

This is where the decisive step takes place: The employee not only analyses the problem to the best of his knowledge, but also actively proposes a solution option.

This step is essential because it is the first time that the employee actively assumes accountability. He seeks approval from his supervisor for his solution.

The supervisor can then concentrate completely on quality assurance and the communication plan: Has the employee overlooked anything in the broader picture? Which other departments need to be informed?

Stage 6: Inform about solution

At the highest level, employees go one step further: they have sufficient self confidence in their area of competence and have recognized that they no longer need blessing from the boss. He only informs him “Boss, for your information – we had a problem with these effects, we solved it independently and informed the appropriate bodies”.

Why is this model a good litmus test for the maturity of an organization? At the highest stage of evolution, we have self-reliant employees and deep mutual trust.

This is a great advantage for both parties. The employees feel the responsibility for their area and are proud of their solution competence. The manager can be proud to have such independent employees and a functioning unit.

It makes work more enjoyable and is also much more efficient, as problems are recognized earlier and solved quicker.

What about you?

Look honestly into the mirror:

  • How mature is your organization in dealing with problems?
  • Do you coach your employees to advance across the stages?

A little hint for leaders at the end: In course of the problem-solving, there is one taboo question – whose fault was it? But we had covered this already in another article.

Translation into English supported by DeepL and Grammarly

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