TLE2008: Essential Problem-Solving Skills That Will Shorten A Project, Dick Orth

My day began with S011-LED: Essential Problem-Solving Skills That Will Shorten a Project, by Dick Orth. One of the key things I took away from that session is that being a facilitative leader is hard but worth it. When you make decisions as a group, you get a lot more buy-in and you can get better answers. Consensus-building increases exposure and risk, and a leader’s role is to facilitate the discussion and mitigate the risk.

Another interesting technique I picked up was the Fist of Five, when people hold up five fingers to indicate full agreement, four fingers to indicate that they mostly agree with something, three fingers to indicate that they can live with something, two fingers to indicate that they have minor issues, one finger to indicate that they have major issues, and zero (a fist) for a flat no.  This technique works best in an established team where people feel comfortable about sharing their opinions, and not quite so well in a new team where people might not feel at ease with disagreement. 

It was interesting to hear the international perspectives from the audience. One of the audience members pointed out that in China, this technique might work with employees from multinational companies, but not with state employees because of their sensitivity to hierarchy.  The audience member also noted that this technique can be used with small companies, but not with the founder present.

Another audience member mentioned that building consensus, especially in Asia, is easier when you focus on the positive. Asking for suggestions for improvement can be less confrontational than asking if anyone has any objections. Asking people to e-mail their private comments also gives other people opportunities to share what they think.

Dick Orth walked through two models for problem-solving: a process-oriented model and a change-oriented model. The process-oriented model focused on generating lots of possibilities with many people, and then developing and narrowing them down with a handful of people. He noted that large groups take a long time to narrow a list of items down, so this should be handled by a smaller group. The change-oriented model focuses on the future state, the current state, and the gap between the two. Both models can be used together, with brainstorming used to identify the future state and the prioritized possibilities, the current strengths and issues, and the actions for moving forward. Dick noted that brainstorming the strengths is a great way to get everyone involved and energized, and that no narrowing down is needed for the strengths.

I took advantage of the break to go to a different session. Dick Orth was interesting and I was looking forward to the case study, but there was another workshop that I wanted to learn from. I explained it to Dick before his presentation, so I didn’t feel so bad disappearing. Still, those were pretty interesting two hours, and I learned a lot. =)