Do You Know What You’re Arguing About?

TL;DR – Use the Problem-Solution-Implementation (PSI) Model to get and keep your teams in sync when they’re making decisions and implementing changes in your organization.

Do you find yourself struggling to secure buy-in from your team, or from your boss, when you’re proposing a new project of initiative? Does it feel like the people on your team aren’t even having the same conversation sometimes, like you’re just talking past each other? Do you revisit the same issues over and over again, never quite coming to a clear commitment of what to do next, but you don’t know what’s stopping everyone from getting on board? Of course you do.

When I’m working with other people, and it seems like we just can’t get in sync, that’s my cue to detach, elevate, and back up. One model I’ve found useful for getting a team in sync is the PSI ModelProblem, Solution, Implementation. Odds are good that you and your team aren’t all focused on the same unit of those three, at the same time.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Think of the PSI model like a chain of agreements. Before we can make any progress on an issue, everyone has to agree on the answer to the question What is the problem we’re trying to solve? Oftentimes, the real problem isn’t the first one stated. We’re usually good a identifying recent symptoms, but not as effective at finding the “Problem behind the problem”. So, before you can move to commitment, you need to make sure everyone agrees on the problem in front of the team.

Perhaps the problem first surfaces as “We’re need to delay starting a project for a new client because we don’t have enough staff to kick it off right now.” But with some digging, you might realize that the real problem is “We’ve been trying to hire new project leads for 6 months but haven’t been able to” – which then of course directly causes an overload on the leads we already have on staff. Finding the “Problem behind the problem” can take time and requires you to dig through some potentially uncomfortable team discussions.

Step 2: Target a Solution

Once we all agree what the problem is, we can move on to determining a solution. For a given problem, you might identify lots of possible solutions. For the problem above (losing candidates mid-funnel), you might solve that by:

  1. Removing steps from the interview process
  2. Shrinking the number of people in team interviews to open up more calendar options
  3. Add more top of the funnel volume to more people get recruited into the process
  4. Raise the compensation for the role to motivate candidates to stick out the current timeline

Sometimes, when teams don’t agree about what to do, it’s because people have a favorite “pet” solution in mind that they want to advocate for. The leader’s job in this phase is to do these two things:

  1. Encourage the team to compare possible solutions for both first, second, and third-order outcomes. Get the likely ripple effecs inside the organization out into the open, and think through the long form consequences of each one.
  2. Confirm the authority of the person accountable for solving the problem to make a final determination of which solution to pursue.

Step 3: Plan the Implementation

Once we have a committed solution (or set of solutions), the accountable person likely needs to enlist others to make a set of changes. If, in our example of solving for candidate abandonment, we determine that the right solution is to reduce the number of people in group interviews, to make scheduling easier to on the calendar sooner, then an implementation plan might look like:

  1. Establish a “maximum candidate wait time” of three days from bookiung to holding each interview. If the recruiter can’t book a full interview team in that timeframe, reduce the number of interviewers until they can.
  2. Update interview scheduling guidelines to reflect the time-over-team-size priority in the roles affected
  3. Review and re-train the recruiting team on the new priorities
  4. Review and re-train the interviewers to confirm their adjust roles and expectations as part of a smaller interviewing team

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan, executed next week.”

General George S. Patton

It’s possible a team member might not agree with any one of those steps. As you develop your implementation plan, make sure you’ve got buy-in from everyone involved in bringing the implementation to life. If they understand the Problem leading to a Solution that needs their aid to get Implemented, they’re a lot more likely to see how they can contribute – and more importantly, why they need to.

We Get Stuck Arguing at Different Levels

In my coaching with teams, I find that when people are really stuck on making a commitment to a course of action, it’s because they’re actually arguing about the Problem-Solution-Implementation framework at different levels. Maybe I’m trying to convince you of my implementation plan for recruiting as I wrote it out above, and your response is “Did you consider adding more recruiters?” I’m talking about the implementation, but you’re talking about other solutions. Or maybe you’re even further back in the process – “Why can’t our leads run projects for two clients at the same time?” Now we’re not even on the same page about the problem?

Most teams don’t realize when they’ve jumped between levels, and so their conversation meanders up and down the chain, never landing, never getting resolution.

Go Back to Where You’re In Sync

When you sense that your team’s out of sync on the PSI for a given issue, you need to detach, elevate, and back up. That usually looks like – “Hey everyone, we’re jumping back and forth on this topic but not resolving it. Let’s start at the top. I believe what I heard is that the problem we’re trying to solve is this…….Does anyone have a different understanding of the problem in front of us? Ok, great. Now, to solve that problem, we reviewed a number of possible solutions and settled on this one…..Right? Great. So, the proposed implementation to that solution is these steps….our intention today is to red-team that implementation plan, OK?”

You have to back up to the point of disconnect, then get in sync there, and then move to the next one. If you’re not in sync on the Problem, there’s no point discussing Solutions. Likewise, if you’re not in agreement on the Solution, you can’t have a productive review of the Implementation!

Your Next Step

  1. Look back over your team’s interactions last week, and identify something they’re “stuck” on.
  2. Capture the current state of the issue – its identified Problem, proposed Solution, and planned Implementation
  3. Determine at what level the team isn’t in sync
  4. At your next team meeting, use the PSI Model to get everybody back in sync, an unstick the problem together
  5. Remember to document all three factors when you’re done, so everybody can stay in sync in the future!

P.S. – If you have a great story about how you used the PSI Model to unstick an issue with your team, would you write me at me@glennburnside.com and share it with me? I’d love to hear about it!