How to Solve the 3 Types of Workplace Problems

What are the three types of dilemmas we find in the workplace and what tools can we use to solve them? Erik Hiep, author of How to Get Winners, not Whiners, details these typical problems and explains how the rational and emotional agendas can be used to deal with them.


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The world out there is complicated, fuzzy, and foggy, with the corona pandemic, with the Ukraine war, with the rising energy prices. And it’s very hard to wrap your arms around that when trying to win as a company.

In order to win, you need to take a look at the rational agenda, which is about vision, mission, values, strategy and structure. You also need to look at the emotional agenda, which is about reputation, alignment, mutual trust, self-confidence, and I would call that the magic. And then another angle that you can look at is: what kind of problems are we trying to fight? I think there’s three kinds of problems.

The first problem is the fire in the house, problem, which is a great problem to have because you huddle up with a team, you make a big effort and you put out the fire and then afterwards you’re going to celebrate and it gives this feel of victory.

I can recall a client having a production plant in Bangkok, Thailand. So the whole production plant was flooded with water and the head office had calculated that it would take 6 to 7 weeks to really get back on track again. But the management team at the location in Bangkok looked each other in the eye and said “we’re going to do that in six days.” And they managed to do it in five. So that’s what I would call magic.

The second is what I would call the Rubik’s Cube problem. And this is more a longer term problem. This is typically a rational problem. This is about roadmaps and milestones, and often it takes a year or more to get it done. And and you don’t have that optimistic winning feeling when you’re done.

And then the last kind of problem, what I would call the wicked problem, and it’s called wicked because it’s a problem and there’s no solution. Corona, for instance, or how to prevent a terrorist attack, or how to deal with Russia these days, and what to do with the gas prices. So how do you deal with that? Invite others in, I think, into your team, because you cannot solve it with your own team. So you have to get outsiders in. So I think diversity is the best word here.

The key thing, how to be able as a team to manage all three problems. What are the key attributes? The first one is decisiveness. You need to be a trusted Three Musketeers team that knows how to make decisions and decision-making is never easy. There’s always risk involved, so you need to have guts there.

The second thing is that we’re always looking at what’s missing and often we’re complaining about the lack of resources, we don’t have the right people, there’s not enough budget , excuses, and sometimes these are really lame excuses. It is not about the lack of resources, it’s about the lack of resourcefulness. I think an executive team, a management team, needs to be resourceful. You as a leader, you’re being paid to be resourceful, to make something out of nothing.

The last thing I would say is influence. It’s important to engage with people, to educate them, and to empower them. Not only your own staff, but also stakeholders, clients and partners.

When you look at the three problems, I think the fire in the house problem is a problem that you need to solve mostly looking at the emotional agenda. This is about the magic. This is about the team. This is about putting in lots of effort and this is all about attitude.

The Rubik’s Cube problem is a bit the other way around. This is more about planning, thinking, logic. So this is for me, more the rational agenda.

For the wicked problem, you need both. You need both the rational and the emotional agenda. And then the frustrating thing is that’s still not enough because you will not manage it. It’s called a wicked problem for a reason. And that is sad, but so true.

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