If you’ve run out of ideas for solving a complex, intractable problem, try this exercise, drawn from the Appreciative Inquiry approach. It works by finding what’s already working well and building on it, rather than trying to analyse the causes of problems.
- Get solution-focused! Decide what you want instead of the problem, and turn it into a question by adding “How do we…?” So the problem statement “Our team is dysfunctional” might become “How do we work together better as a team?”
- Find examples of when things were working better. Ask yourself “When have I experienced good team working?” Relive that experience so you can remember what it felt like.
- Ask yourself “What’s important to me about this experience?” This helps you reconnect with your motivation.
- Identify the factors that made that good experience possible. If you can put these conditions back into place, you increase the possibility of success.
- Finally, if you were granted three wishes for this situation, what would they be? And what could you do to make those wishes start coming true?
What you are doing with this process is to psychologically prime your mind to generate new ideas and new possibilities. Shifting your focus from the problem to desired solutions makes it easier to come up with creative ways to get there.
Bonus tip: this works even better if you involve other members of your team. Use these questions to conduct Appreciative Interviews with each other, to establish a shared basis for your desired solution.