In my work with individuals and teams, we often begin with the question “What problem are we trying to solve?” This simple question can generate a strong reaction. Based on the position in the hierarchy, experience, preferences aspirations and the like, different stories begin to emerge. What becomes abundantly clear is that while we are all experiencing the “problem” together, we are not having the same experience.

This “phenomenon” should not surprise us. In one sense it reminds us of one of our key strengths – we are all different. If we were all the same, our ability to discern distinctions, aberrations, and possibilities would be severely limited. We often undervalue or overlook the potential of diversity. It can be discomforting, even lead to conflict.

In some contexts, individuals and teams are so overcommitted, expediency becomes a dominant decision influencer. Getting the to do list reduced feels more productive than wrestling with big gnarly issues – so the gnarly persist. (This is the hamster jumping on the wheel in its cage – it’s not going anywhere, it is just calming itself by running in place.) This pattern is good for my business but it is terrible for yours.

In his recent book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman brilliantly outlines the risks we face by making “snap judgments,” even in familiar circumstances. So what are we to do? For one, get your team to read Kahneman’s book. Barring that, here are some key questions to ask yourself and your colleagues:

  1. What problem are we solving?
  2. How is our current way of working perfectly aligned to produce this problem? (This requires separating your intentions from your impact.)
  3. Who benefits most from our view of the challenge? Who has the most to lose?
  4. Who isn’t in the conversation, who has something to gain or lose?
  5. What will this situation look like in 18 months if we could make progress?

People across all sectors are working hard to solve really important problems and overcoming amazing challenges. Please take this piece as an invitation to step back and reflect – not as a criticism of what you and your colleagues are trying to accomplish.

Imagine what might happen if you could solve problems once, and move on to other things. The possibilities are endless. Good luck.