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Complex Challenge? Break it into Components

By Audrey Seymour

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When faced with a complex challenge, do you rush for a quick solution, or do you step back and understand the situation deeply enough to build the best solution?

A client I'll call Bob came to me after trying to meet the demands of his growing business by hiring several new field representatives. However, his new hires did not have enough expertise or motivation to succeed, and as a result his business reputation was at risk. Bob felt at a loss trying to decide what to do. He didn't know whether to cut back and hire new employees one at a time to allow for more training, hire yet another representative to train as supervisor, or find an entirely different strategy.

Another client I'll call Jane struggled to manage three different businesses at the same time. She could not decide whether to cut back on one or two of them, hire more people or simply prioritize her time more effectively.

The first step in solving complex problems is to gather more information so that you can fully understand all the components that are part of the situation. From that depth of understanding, solutions usually arise and present themselves naturally, as we focus on each piece and the relationships between the pieces.

One of the best ways to start is to to organize all the pieces of the puzzle visually, so you can get a sense of them as if they were physical objects. You might type them up on a list, or draw a diagram where you can show the relationships between the parts.

Bob and I made a list to describe the specific areas where the problems appeared in his organization:

  • New training for field reps
  • Supervision of field reps
  • Motivating and inspiring staff
  • Procedure in the field
  • Coordinating daily operations

After identifying these key aspects of his challenge, we were able to zero in on a solution that included hiring an office manager, setting up a more formal training program and writing an operations manual. Bob also realized that, as a natural introvert, he needed to take a leadership development course in order to become a more inspiring leader.

When I last spoke with Bob, his new operations manual was nearly complete and his employees were responding well to his more confident leadership.

Jane used a visual map with ovals representing each of her three businesses on the page. She drew the interconnections with lines and arrows and wrote the key objectives of each one underneath.

Once Jane saw her businesses clearly diagrammed on paper, she said "Oh!  Now I see how they really are pieces of one thing! I don't want to drop anything, but this first business can wait for several months. The other two have to grow at the same time now because they depend on each other."

Prioritizing the competing demands of her three businesses became much simpler with this new understanding, and she experienced greater ease and efficiency as her businesses grew.

What component pieces are part of the most challenging situation facing you right now? They might be unintegrated business areas, competing agendas, unprioritized projects, or a need for new systems or trainings.

It is the willingness to delve more deeply into a problem or challenge before taking action that allows for the natural wisdom inherent in your understanding to provide the best solution. What challenges have you faced and what ultimate solutions have you found?  I'd love to hear from you.

© 2010 Audrey Seymour. All rights reserved.