Forgiveness and Focus: Hidden Keys to Problem-Solving

When problems arise, how does your organization respond? What is the focal point?

Imagine: A problem arises at your company and it soon becomes known that one person recognized it earlier but didn’t come forward right away. Instead of focusing on the problem, members of the team ask, “Why didn’t you come forward sooner?”

Did you notice it? The focus shifted. Not only is the problem not addressed, but now your employee is put in a defensive position where any insights he or she has on the problem, become secondary to self-protection.

While the question may be a valid step in seeking a solution, it can be framed more productively. Rather than coming across as accusing, one could try to understand the mindset behind this team member’s delay. Perhaps he or she was gathering more information – or assessing whether this was a problem worth addressing or merely a glitch that would soon evaporate.

At any rate, approaching this team member in a forgiving way has a much better chance of uncovering key details that can help solve the problem. And if his or her actions were indeed an error, it’s a lot easier to use them as a teachable moment if your employee senses your desire to forgive and help him or her improve, instead of taking the position of blaming.

If blame plays any role in your problem solving, you’re likely making the problem bigger and harder to solve than it needs to be.

Blaming creates an environment of fear and squelches the process of exploring solutions. When blame or shame are the reward for being wrong, people become hesitant to share opinions that aren’t guaranteed winners. That hesitancy costs the group the opportunity to assess ideas that may not themselves be the ultimate solution but can start them down the road to it.

Ironically, in the privacy of our own minds, we often blame even ourselves, too. How many times have you stewed over a problem, wondering whether there wasn’t something you could have done differently? Something that would have kept a problem from reaching its present point? Forgiving others – and forgiving ourselves – rather than blaming, is a key step in finding solutions and solving problems.

There’s a powerful scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA mission control team has just learned of the malfunction that threatens to strand the three astronauts in space. As the team panics over this life-or-death situation, Mission Control Flight Director Gene Krantz calms their emotions and redirects their focus as he says, “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

Moments later, when he meets with representatives of the company whose lunar module now offers the only hope of getting the astronauts home safely. You can see the terror in their eyes as they try to shield their company from possible blame if the module fails. Again, Krantz speaks words of reassurance and forgiveness: “I don’t care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.”

Working your problem is key – not blaming, not self-protection. While the problems you encounter in your organization may not be as critical as those in that space mission, working the problem needs to trump the blame and shame that get in the way of solving it.

Sometimes it takes a set of fresh eyes to help you see past the emotions that have entangled themselves around a problem, so you can work effectively toward a solution. That’s what we have done for numerous organizations, and we’d love to help you “work the problem” with any that your organization may face.  Feel free to contact us, and let’s talk about how to find the solutions your organization needs.