An employee has a problem. They bring you the problem because you are the manager and you have lots of knowledge and experience. You solve the problem because you can and want to help. The employee goes back to work. This is the “short game” of getting things done and it happens all the time.
This scenario happens every day in most organizations, and it seems pretty harmless, and even helpful. Managers should be willing to share their knowledge and experience with their team and support them any way they can. Yet this practice is one of the most common mistakes made in organizations.
It is not the act of a manager solving a problem, but the habit of solving problems over and over and over again. In essence, the manager is training the employee to stop thinking when a problem arises and expect their manager to handle it.
Instead, managers should think about the “long game”.
The “long game” is building a team of people who are engaged, and ready and able to solve their own problems.
Instead of solving the problem for your employees, help them to solve it. Walk them through the process they should follow to solve the problems. Ask lots of good questions. Challenge them.
I saw one of our executive clients practice this recently in a meeting. The company was picking up some extra workload and the manager of one of the departments asked how they were going to handle the extra work. Instead of offering a solution, the executive did a great job. She said, “Yes, that is going to be a big challenge. We have a few weeks before the work hits. Is there anything we can do to increase our capacity?”
The manager started to think and immediately brainstormed several ideas for how they could handle the increased workload. This had three really good effects on the manager and her team. First, the manager was practicing solving her own problems making her better at her job. Second, the manager bought into the solution she developed which improved their performance as the work hit. Third, it set an example for the manager to follow with her people. She took the problem to her team and they worked out solutions to many of the detailed challenges that they were going to face.
Every problem is an opportunity, and if you play the “long game”, it’s also an opportunity for your team to get better.