Don’t tell me there is a problem, tell me there is a solution

Robots and ark building.

“At a certain point in the process, no credit will be given for predicting rain. The only credit will be for helping to build an ark.” Ben Horowitz

Last night I spent 45 minutes talking a client down from a rant about how negative his team had become. They were demoralized from all the customer complaints and additional workload that entailed. The Q/A team complained the developers showed them no respect and the Product Managers continued to give the developers poor stories for the sprints; all common complaints for a VP development of a small Agile/SaaS company.

His team had developed the habit of predicting rain. They shot down ideas and came to meetings with objections and new problems they asserted could not be resolved. The gloom and doom was doing harm by demoralizing the team and impacting productivity.

My advice to him was use the first rule of robotics. In Asimov’s first rule of robotics, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Insert the term team or company for human and you have an effective rule for management.

When folks come to discussions with negativity, inaction and reports on what won’t work or what is broken and neglect to offer solutions, they bring harm. Even if they are the wrong solutions, they start the discussion in a positive, let’s-solve-this sort of way. It builds the team, keeps morale high and eventually results in a solution that works.

Teams are more likely to collaborate. Success comes both internally and across the company when people are solutions oriented. If they feel embittered and demoralized because their product or process isn’t working, they tend not to reach out.

Building a solutions-oriented team renders immediate results. People feel empowered and creative. They get things done and try new things. The simple idea of finding solutions instead of merely reporting problems is the basis on which the Japanese car manufacturers achieved their astounding success and turned around their industry years ago.

When everyone becomes part of the solution, they are no longer part of the problem. It is as simple as permitting no complaints or problems without also offering a solution or work-around. When that rule is enforced and the example is set, even a demoralized team can start building the  ark.

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