How can people become more effective problem solvers and decision-makers? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Bettina Büchel, IMD Professor of Strategy & Author of Strategic Agility, on Quora:

An execution leader has an enormous amount of influence in helping teams solve problems and make decisions. Execution teams are looking for guidance. Like I mention in my new book, Strategic Agility: The Art of Piloting Initiatives, we invite leaders to think of having a set of filters through which you view the execution of strategic initiatives.

With the aid of filters, you can focus clearly on one aspect at a time and not be distracted by the daunting complexity of the implementation. If you were to compare implementation to the complex ecology of a garden with edible, ornamental plants and weeds, all at different stages of growth and decay, health and disease, then it would probably be difficult to decide where to focus your efforts first. But if you were able to see the weeds when putting on a red filter, you would have an easy time picking out the plants. As you continue you put on a blue filter to look for the sick plants, etc.

The point is that filters can help us decide and ensure that we keep the strategic overview. The filter could be the strategic reason for engaging in an initiative. While keeping the strategic overview is critical, a leader needs to be aware enough of the details to avoid skating over the issues and never coming to grips with the problems that occur around priorities. Here you need to tap into every viewpoint to understand the breadth and depth of an issue to be able to take action.

A wise leader collects information and selects the critical few or the key priorities based on organizational and environmental realities. As a leader, you influence and guide the performance of the team in five major ways:

  1. Provide direction and ambition
  2. Make critical decisions
  3. Help the team learn to execute
  4. Engage in feedback with the team
  5. Monitor the execution of energy.

Whenever a team must solve a problem, there needs to be a divergent phase, during which the team examines the problem, followed by a convergent phase when the team moves to a solution. Facilitate your team's learning when it comes keeping a balance between analyzing a problem and coming to closure so that they reach sound decisions in a timely manner. But, also, reassure them they are not alone - you are responsible and accountable for the decisions.

Strategic initiatives represent a major financial investment, so to ensure the company gets value for money, conduct periodic reviews to monitor progress through to completion. As an execution leader, you want the team to learn how to strike a balance between paying attention to detail and keeping an eye on the big picture. Do not be afraid of difficult conversations. But make sure you create an environment where people feel safe challenging the status quo and providing candid feedback.

Finding the balance between support and challenge is how the team can maintain energy over time. Finding the right balance between supporting and challenging team members and paying attention to individuals goes a long way toward building execution energy that will take the team through tough waters.

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Published on: Jun 21, 2019