One powerful way to extract your team members’ best ideas, suggestions and efforts is to conduct a problem-solving meeting based on a definite agenda and guidelines. Here’s how:
State the problem and identify the cause. Dedicate each meeting to a single situation that’s hampering your team’s ability to accomplish its goals. Sometimes the problem is easy to identify—such as excessive defects caused by a machine that’s out of adjustment. Other times it takes real insight to identify what needs to be solved. For example, if you have a problem with, brainstorming in a problem-solving meeting can lead you to the culprit—say an inadequate air-filtering system that’s making your team members sick.
Generate possible solutions. This is a two-part process. Based on a clear statement of the problem, everyone contributes rough ideas toward a solution. This isn’t quite the same as “brainstorming,” since you want the ideas to stay within the boundaries set by your abilities and resources. But the ideas don’t have to be perfect, and you shouldn’t move to the second phase—refining the ideas into the best practical solution you can implement—until you’ve got all the ideas on the table. When you do move to that refining phase, encourage creative approaches. Invite team members to combine ideas or pick them apart.
Implement the solution. As a team leader, you may not be the person who actually needs to oversee the implementation of your team’s idea. But you should take responsibility for creating, with team input, an action plan that identifies specific responsibilities and deadlines to which team members commit. You can delegate to others the task of monitoring implementation and watching out for obstacles. Many teams don’t wait for problems to become intolerable to have meetings to solve them. Instead, they have regular meetings to which team members can bring emerging challenges and concerns. Regular problem-solving meetings are a good way to stop those troubles before they start.