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Doug Ringer

The world is much more complex than it was when I was a teenager 30 years ago. We had one rotary dial telephone and a television that received three channels. We lived in a rural area that was “primitive” compared to our modern times and my parents still live in there. They now have cell phones, a computer, fax machine, three printers, satellite television, and receive their internet via broadband cellular network.

Humankind has always sought ways to improve itself -- fire, the wheel, stone tools gave way to copper, then bronze and iron, and finally steel. Local mail to the Pony Express, telegraph, telephone, e-mail and finally text messaging and social media. Improvements in technology were the key to these advances. These technology-driven improvements created a better, but more complex world for the inhabitants of each era.

The pressures to cope with all this complexity can be overwhelming. I would like to share some concepts for breaking down complex issues into smaller components that can be addressed individually and in their own time.

Four Concepts

  1. Simple for you may not be for others
  2. Look at the whole of the desired result and deconstruct
  3. Seek to understand all portions of the work
  4. Seek to understand how parties interact

Starting with the first point, do not tell anyone it is a simple problem to solve - even if it is for you. This can very easily be interpreted as an insult. While we do not want to go through a project, or life, worrying about not offending others, there are limits to what is acceptable in a civil society.

The group you are working with may not have the experience or insight that allows you to see it as a simple problem to resolve. Coach your team them to look at the problem in various ways and at its multiple aspects, and guide them to the right path with encouragement to solve it themselves. This transfer of skills will make the team more effective the next time and reduces dependence on you.

Secondly, I approach a problem by creating a detailed vision of the result I want to achieve and then perform a step-by-step deconstruction of it. I like to visualize the desired result as a brick house that I am tearing down one brick at a time. The “bricks” are the pieces of the new product, project, or idea that become the final result.

The third concept is to ensure each of the competency groups of the project is focused on accomplishing their set of responsibilities while remaining aware of the overall goals of the project. Now that the project has been broken into manageable parts and assigned to competency groups, the goal should be to understand important details of each of these groups, why it is important to that group, and how it works with the other parts. This gives you the knowledge to make sure the “bricks” are reassembled into the desired “house.”

The last concept to consider when consulting with or leading a team is to understand how the individuals work together, and if these interactions can provide the desired results. If the project is a short-term, one-time affair, then this step may be minimized. However, this is not the normal case in well-run, successful companies that keep their successful teams intact. These successful teams should remain intact and be reassigned to the next important project instead of being spread across other projects where their effectiveness is diluted or eliminated. Understanding why the team was successful and replicating with other teams builds a series of stronger teams and a ultimately a stronger company. 

We live in a complex world and there are many problems to solve every day, some simple -- many not. The concepts described above will help create your desired results by improving the functioning of any organizations greatest asset, their people.

Remember:

  • Do not offend by oversimplification

  • Look at the whole
 and then deconstruct it

  • Seek to understand team dynamics and everyone’s part of it
  • Reuse successful teams as often as possible

Doug Ringer is a product development and marketing expert and the author of “The Product Rocket: Launching New Products to Out-of-this-World Success.” Doug has held global roles in marketing, R&D, and manufacturing at General Electric, Ericsson, Schneider Electric, and Honeywell. Follow his work at www.dougringer.com and @doug_ringer on Twitter.

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