Don’t problem solve during meetings

You can never understand the issue when you try to problem-solve in the room. There’s too much extra pressure to find an answer, any answer, to get the meeting going again. You lack thinking time and resources. Working on a problem during a meeting always leads to a lousy analysis with no guarantee that you’ve identified the right issue. And yet, we all still fall into the trap of doing it.

I’m no exception. Last week we had both our branding and our performance agency on a quick campaign update. There’s a problem with one of the channels; it’s not performing as we expected. Everyone immediately has an idea about what’s going on and starts pitching solutions.

Frantic conversations start. All of them based on gut feeling and some very high-level data. We’re discussing the issue for over fifteen minutes. A quick update has now descended into an interactive problem-solving session. We’ve lost sight of everything that isn’t part of the problem.

Problem-solving in the room feels like high-value work.

But that’s just an illusion. You don’t have all of the information, so you’re just arguing your way to a possible solution.

We had five people in our call: Two for each agency, the brand manager, the e-commerce manager and me. We talked about this specific issue for fifteen minutes. That means that we wasted a combined total of an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the wrong solutions. Problem-solving in the room gets expensive fast, particularly if you get it wrong.

Find better answers with these three steps.

  1. What are the symptoms & issues we’re seeing?
  2. What’s the ideal state?
  3. Set up a follow-up call, meeting or mail.

Define the symptoms you’re seeing. List as many as you can, this helps define the problem. That way, you also make sure you’re solving the right issue. By jumping into the problem-solving mode, you risk working on the wrong one, or without enough insights.

Underline what the ideal state is. What behaviour are we expecting to see? Make sure everyone is in agreement.

The last step is the most important one, and the only action you should take during the meeting: Set up a follow-up call, meeting or mail. Lock that into your schedules and hold yourself accountable.

After the meeting, you’re able to delve into all the information you need to get to the heart of the issue. You can do so without the pressure of having to find an answer on the spot. The quality of your decisions and work goes up.

Live problem-solving sessions make your colleagues or customers feel as if the meeting was a dumpster fire that went out of control if they hadn’t intervened.

“I don’t know, but let’s find out and fix it” is a perfectly ok answer. It just feels uncomfortable to say.

Resist the temptation to problem solve in the room.

Lose fewer clients.
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