The Balancing Act Between Teaching and Solving


Has this ever happened to you? One of your team members comes to you to talk about how to deal with an issue. But by the end of the conversation, you find that somehow the issue has become yours to solve. In a situation like this, you’re typically faced with balancing the need to solve the problem quickly and using it as an opportunity to build your team member’s capabilities.

When leaders feel significant time pressure or stress, they may intervene in their team’s problems more often than they should. What typically happens to you? When someone approaches you with an issue, how often do you dive right in and take action? How often do you start by asking questions to help the team member resolve the issue himself?

If your inclination is to jump into problem-solving mode, consider asking your team member the following questions first:

  • “What’s most important to you about the issue?”

  • “What problem are you really trying to solve?”

  • “What have you tried already, and what did you learn from that?”

  • “What would you like me to do in this situation?”

That last one is especially important: Get to the heart of what someone is truly asking before taking action. Does your team member just need you to listen, does she need your help brainstorming or would she like you to remove an obstacle to her progress? Don’t make assumptions.

Finally, pay attention to who owns implementation of the solution before you have finished the conversation. In some instances, you may want to take over due to the nature of the issue and sensitivity of the situation. However, challenge yourself to consider how you can help the individual be successful in resolving it himself or with the support of others.

This week, notice how you respond when your team approaches you with problems. Pay attention to your patterns and look for ways to guide your team to resolve more on their own. By keeping your priorities and your team’s development front and center, you will accomplish far more in the long run – by building a stronger team and strategically focusing your energy and effort.