November 07,2019 Facilitating Innovation

Provide Problems Not Solutions

Provide Problems Not Solutions

Learning Cells

A learning cell is a Lean process that maximizes the philosophy to provide problems, not solutions. The learning cell is a workshop designed to explore problems by a diverse group of participants. Led by a facilitator, a team is assembled upon which a problem owner speaks to the workshop. They explain the problem to the best of their knowledge and give all the pertinent perspective to the team. They then walk away from the process as to not influence the decision-making process only to return at the end of the event looking for the solution that the team provides. The facilitator helps with guiding problem-solving techniques sans the fishbone diagrams, behavior process mapping, Pareto charts, and others. As a result, the team then focuses on learning as much as possible about the problem and applying a unique perspective on how to solve the issue at the root cause.

Provide Problems

An enlightened manager wants to employ creators, not implementors. Because knowledge workers are unique and paid to think.  However, if the manager were to only give employees solutions, they would be wasting their talent and turn them into implementors. Most people and machines can follow instructions, conversely, most people can create instructions as well.

A management best practice from ages ago outlined that managers must have all of the answers. Because the manager always needed to be that rock of stability for the entire team. If a problem existed, the manager’s role was to solve it. Unfortunately, this philosophy moved generations of knowledge workers to disempowered employees. Because of the manager taking all the problem resolution actions, they degraded the effectiveness of the initiative and took away their team’s knowledge worker status.

Team Engagement

Giving a team a problem engages the full employee. Hence, it unlocks the mental aspects of their capabilities and expands its potential. Because the process gives them ownership of the issue and solution. This ownership drives higher engagement, participation, and a better quality of performance.

By empowering the team to solve a problem the issue owner adds multiple perspectives to the process. Hence, this enables multiple brains in exploring the issue and counteract the potential for groupthink. Lastly, this increases the likelihood of solving the root cause of the issue or developing a well-rounded and vetted solution.

Development via Problem Solving

Most importantly is that by giving the team problems, the team inherently develops their problem-solving capability. A management crutch is to be the ultimate problem solver and to take that autonomy away from their employees. However, if the team never learns how to solve problems, they will always come to the manager to have their problems solved for them. Consequently, the manager will become a crutch and the team will never achieve a high level of self-efficacy. Furthermore, empowerment is time consuming and difficult, yet it is a long-term investment that pays huge dividends.

Practical Application

  • Assess yourself and your problem-solving process. By reviewing all the issues that occurred during the last year or six months, how many were solved by yourself.
  • Bring your team small issues and practice coaching through the resolution process without offering suggestions.
  • Start to pose problems and questions at workshops and staff meetings so that the team begins to get comfortable with the team problem-solving process.


The Netherlands has a tradition that runs counter to the trend of being over-protective helicopter parents. The goal of the Dutch parents is to teach their children to not rely on their parents. Between the ages of ten to twelve, parents in the Netherlands send their children on a rite of passage. They send them into the woods with the goal to navigate their way home.

Some parents blindfold their children and drive in circles as to confuse them, others simply drop their children off the side of the road. What is common is that the children are set free around 10.00 p.m. without GPS, their phones, or other navigational devices with the expectation to find their way out. This typically takes five to six hours with most children returning home around three to four in the morning exhausted.

Building Confidence

The intent of the tradition is to build confidence. Once Dutch children reach their teenage years their expectations and responsibilities increase. Parents want their children to understand that they control their own destiny and need to take charge of their own lives. Emphasized mostly is the realization for children that there is no safety net in the activity or in life (Barry, 2019).


Barry, E. (2019, July 21). A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Let Loose in the Night Woods. New York Times.

Watson, M. (2018). Another Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

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