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Nurturing Ownership: Balancing Urgency and Long-Term Solutions

With higher education facing rapid change, it can be tempting to look for quick fixes and temporary solutions. However, striving for sustainable, long-term solutions ultimately benefits the institution and students, even if it takes more time and experimentation.

In the role of coach-leader, it is not uncommon to encounter urgent pain points within a team, especially when it comes to customer friction or failure caused by a specific product or process. These challenges demand immediate attention and can place significant pressure on leaders to find quick resolutions. However, it is essential to recognize that merely addressing the symptoms with Band-Aid solutions is not a sustainable approach in the long run. In such situations, I lean into the leadership principle of ownership, building for long-term customer good and systems sustainability, while addressing time-sensitive problems for urgent relief.

Understanding the Root Cause

To effectively address any issue, it is crucial to identify the root cause. It is important to assemble the team involved in the problem area to collectively examine the cause and gather the data needed to formulate an action plan that will resolve the issue long term. By fostering a collaborative environment, the coach-leader encourages individuals to share the perspectives and insights needed to analyze the underlying issue. This inclusive approach creates a sense of ownership within the team, as each member feels valued and accountable for the solution.

As a coach-leader, I begin by framing a series of critical questions that fosters deep thinking about the issue, its root cause and possible solutions. Critical questions guide the team toward the topics and information needed to define, deconstruct and resolve any problem. Questions are worded to stimulate analytical thought and critical thinking. The questions also act as guard rails to keep the team on topic and focused on the facts at hand. It is this process that plants the seeds of ownership. By drilling down to the facts and offering possible solutions, the team begins to invest in the issue’s solution and own the outcome.   

Critical questions to pose to the team:

  • What factors do you believe contribute to the current pain point or problem?
  • Have you reached out to all relevant stakeholders for their input and to further your understanding of the issue?
  • What assumptions or biases might be clouding our perception of the root cause?
  • How can we encourage open dialogue and create a safe space for team members to share their insights?

Resisting the Band-Aid Solution

In the face of urgency, it is tempting to opt for quick fixes or Band-Aid solutions that provide immediate relief. While these temporary measures might alleviate the pain or friction temporarily, they are rarely sustainable over the long term. Don’t be tempted by a quick fix. It often exacerbates the problem over time. Urge initiative leaders to look beyond the immediate gratification of resolving the problem quickly. Instead, ask critical questions that unearth the potential consequences and illustrate the need for a more robust and durable solution. By mapping out viable solutions and downstream customer impacts the team will formulate a plan that delivers a sustainable workable solution.

Critical questions to pose to the team:

  • What are the short-term benefits and drawbacks of the proposed solution?
  • How might this Band-Aid solution impact our long-term goals or objectives?
  • Are there any potential unintended consequences that we need to consider?
  • What alternatives have we explored to address the root cause instead of relying on a temporary fix?

Promoting a Long-Term Mindset

True ownership lies in taking responsibility for the long-term well-being of the team and the organization. As a coach-leader it is crucial to foster a forward-thinking culture, where team members are encouraged to consider the broader implications and long-term consequences of their actions in all areas of the organization and along the customer journey. It is important to foster this mindset among team members through the critical questioning process, as it encourages them to seek sustainable solutions even when under pressure. Once the team has identified a sustainable solution, relevant tasks are broken down into doable steps that can be quickly implemented and adjusted as needed within the action plan. The solutions along with the expected impact are documented in the action plan.

Critical questions to consider:

  • Does the team’s mindset and actions address the purpose and goals as they relate to achieving the organization’s strategy?
  • How can you clarify and align the team’s efforts with the organization’s long-term vision and goals?
  • What is the ideal experience for the customer or stakeholder and what solution(s) supports it best?
  • Are there phases of a long-term solution, and what might implementation of phase 1 look like?
  • How can you foster a culture of forward-thinking and proactive problem-solving? What behaviors can you model?

Communicating the Bigger Picture

To ensure the team’s commitment to finding a long-term solution, coach-leaders must consistently communicate and reference the bigger picture to focus everyone’s efforts on that shared goal. By providing context and clarifying the long-term vision, coach-leaders help the team understand the broader implications of their work. This understanding instills a sense of purpose and reinforces ownership within the team, motivating them to go beyond quick fixes and strive for sustainable resolutions.

Critical questions to consider:

  • How can the coach-leader effectively communicate the broader context and long-term vision to the team?
  • What communication methods or channels should the team consider to effectively convey the significance of the problem and the need for sustainable solutions?
  • Are there any potential barriers to effective communication that need to be addressed?
  • How can the coach-leader ensure team members understand their individual roles and contributions to the long-term solution?

Encouraging Creativity and Experimentation

In the pursuit of long-term solutions, coach-leaders must encourage creativity, exploration and experimentation within their teams. I advocate for fostering an environment that embraces iteration and rewards critical and innovative thinking. By empowering individuals to explore alternative approaches, experiment with different solutions and create viable action plans for all their operational needs, coach-leaders can tap into their team’s full potential and discover more sustainable strategies. They will foster ongoing autonomy and unshakeable task ownership for their team.  

Critical questions to consider:

  • How can you create an environment that encourages team members to think innovatively, explore alternative approaches and create viable action plans?
  • Are there existing processes and ways of working that no longer serve the team or that limit innovation? If so, how can we overcome them?
  • What strategies can we implement to support and reward critical thinking?
  • How can you foster a culture where experimentation and learning from failure are embraced rather than feared?

Investing in Coaching and Skill Development

Addressing complex challenges often requires a multidisciplinary approach. To foster ownership and enable the team to tackle problems effectively, coach-leaders should invest in their team’s skill development. By using a coaching model to create ongoing training opportunities and continuous learning, the coach-leader is positioned to empower individuals to develop the expertise necessary for long-term problem-solving. This investment not only enhances the team’s capabilities but also reinforces a culture of ownership and personal growth.

Critical questions to consider:

  • What specific skills or knowledge gaps exist within the team that hinder their ability to address the problem effectively?
  • How can you provide opportunities for coaching, training, development and continuous learning?
  • Are there any resources or external support that can be leveraged to enhance the team’s capabilities?
  • How can you ensure that team members have access to the necessary resources to develop the expertise required for sustainable problem-solving?

Iterating Toward Long-Term Solutions

Sometimes coach-leaders must initiate action immediately to alleviate customer pain points. Any Band-Aid solutions should be regarded as stepping-stones to long-term resolutions. Encourage your teams to learn from temporary fixes, maintain their perspective to iterate toward more sustainable solutions. This iterative process allows for continuous improvement and empowers team members to take ownership of their work and act. By celebrating progress and learning from setbacks, coach-leaders foster a culture of resilience and perseverance.

Critical questions to consider:

  • What lessons can we learn from the Band-Aid solution that can guide us toward more sustainable resolutions?
  • What feedback mechanisms can we put in place to gather insights and iterate on our solutions?
  • How can we celebrate progress and acknowledge the efforts of team members throughout the iterative process?

As coach-leaders, it is imperative to balance the urgency of addressing immediate pain points with the pursuit of sustainable, long-term solutions. Coach-leaders should guide their teams toward effective analysis, planning and resolutions that not only alleviate the pain or friction but also provides lasting value. By embracing ownership and nurturing a forward-thinking mindset, leaders create a culture of accountability and empower their teams to overcome challenges and thrive in the face of adversity.

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