As an Adventure Racing World Champion, I’m often asked what’s the single-biggest difference between great teams and not-so-great teams? The simple answer is attitude. Winning teams always look for solutions while losing teams look for someone to blame.
I was reminded of this when I was completing the first Florida Keys adventure for my nonprofit, Project Athena (where survivors and fundraisers kayak and cycle for 120 miles from Key Largo to Key West). On the first day of cycling, we experienced an incident that showed how teams can be solution-focused. One of our survivors that year was an above-the-knee amputee. Due to her post-op inflammation receding, her prosthetic leg kept falling off. The first time it happened, her prosthetic leg stayed attached to the bike pedal as she made a slow crash into the bike lane. What left us cringing in horror left her laughing and determined to continue.
Our team immediately went into action to find solutions so she could complete the ride. One person found a belt on the side of the road; another found an old bungee cord in the back of a truck. Together we used this detritus to rig a way to keep the prosthetic leg attached, and she completed the adventure with a big smile on her face.
All of us could have given up or complained about ill-fitting prosthetic legs. Instead, we stayed positive and focused on solutions. That’s not to say teams should never talk about problems. In fact, we need to talk about problems. Not talking about problems can be even worse than complaining about them. But what if, in addition to talking about our team problems, we started our own personal solution revolution?
Be the SolutionBeing the solution is contagious. What if you inserted the positivity of creating a solution or two into daily conversations with your teammates rather than just piled on to the problems? Try it the next time you come upon a group discussing issues at work. When it’s your turn to speak, start with, “What do you guys think is the best way to make XYZ better?” You’ll be coaching a stealthy shift in the conversation.
Get the Team InvolvedSome teams I worked with have suggested employees shouldn’t bring up a problem unless the employee also has a solution. Basically, a “don’t complain unless you can fix the problem” rule. In my experience, that’s the wrong approach. It stifles dialogue and limits solutions. There’s a reason why we have teams, after all. We may find a problem, but another teammate will probably have a great solution. We won’t know until we bring up the problem. The key to problem-solving is really in articulating what the problem is and how it’s affecting you and your team. That really gets the dialogue going.
Generate the ExcitementWhen you focus the team on openly discussing problems and finding solutions, you’ll notice a change in the culture. Soon, people will want to be on the team that’s part of the solution and not part of the problem, especially if you offer to be the point person to try to bring that positive change about. People tend to embrace the things they helped create. Ownership is a powerful incentive for positive outcomes.
The best and brightest teams I’ve worked on mastered the art of quickly and objectively assessing a problem and moving straight to finding a solution. It takes some courage to be the person who breaks from the crowd and ventures into positive territory, but people will quickly realize you’re doing the best for the organization. Then your quest to build a world-class team will succeed no matter what change or challenge comes your way.