CXO

Practice the right kind of problem solving

Don't point fingers when something goes wrong. Whether you're a manager or just part of the IT team, use this approach to keep a cool head when a crisis occurs.


Smart. Proud. Dedicated. Perfectionist. Those words describe most of the IT people I know and work with. And when people with those qualities work together in a stressful environment, differences of opinion frequently lead to heated discussions, especially when something goes wrong.

The problem that plagues most IT shops is inadequate or absent problem-solving skills. This week, my message is for IT managers and their reports: Adopt a policy of blameless problem solving.
Subscribe to the View from Ground Zero TechMail, and you'll get a bonus of Jeff’s picks for the best Web sites for IT support professionals—exclusively for TechMail subscribers.
Ask why, not who
I’ve worked for some managers (and with some people) who love to point fingers and assign blame. You make even the slightest mistake, and the miscreant manager will stand up in a meeting and publicly embarrass you by saying things like, “Well, thanks to Jeff’s boneheaded mistake, we’re going to have to rebuild all of our laptops.” That’s usually followed by uneasy laughter and a perfunctory, “Oh, don’t worry, Jeff; we’re not going to fire you—yet.”

Managers who practice motivation by humiliation are doomed to failure. Quality organizations and good people won’t put up with that kind of person for long.

I was first introduced to the concept of “blameless problem solving” several employers ago. The CEO would call a meeting and remind everyone that he expected us all to:
  • Treat each other like adults.
  • Practice blameless problem solving.

Getting people to treat each other like adults is something easier said than done, but it’s an honorable goal. It means being mindful of what you say and write to your coworkers.

Practicing blameless problem solving is also easier said than done, but it should be a mandatory part of every company’s corporate philosophy or mission statement. It’s a simple concept:
  • Ask the right questions. When something goes wrong, don’t make the first order of business to determine who is at fault. Instead, ask why the thing went wrong and what needs to be done to correct it. Then, ask what the company can do to prevent the same thing from going wrong again.

  • Now, I’m not saying that people who carelessly or chronically make mistakes shouldn’t be held accountable for their job performance. I’m just pointing out that no one in IT has a complete knowledge of any system, and everyone in IT makes mistakes. Unfortunately, we forget those facts because we get too caught up in our quest for the perfect system. Our tolerance for human error goes out the window.

    Furthermore, in IT, we work under the scrutiny of everyone else in the company. We often hear end users say things like, “Oh, the computer’s down again because those people in IT did something wrong again….” When that happens, we only hurt the IT department’s reputation if we publicly impugn one of our own.

    Change for the better
    If you’re one of those IT people who just loves to point the finger of blame when a project or a process goes south, I challenge you to change your ways. Give blameless problem solving a try. Once you do, you’ll find you get a lot more cooperation and higher quality work out of your reports and your coworkers.
    Have you ever managed or worked in an environment of finger pointing and blame-laying? We want to know how (or whether) you coped. Please post a note below or follow this link to write to Jeff.

    Editor's Picks