Most of you have worked in teams at work, right? So you know how teams can sometimes unravel in case of an unexpected crisis.

Some members of the group can get super aggressive as they jump in to take charge. Others can get hostile in the face of such aggression. All this only leads to conflict and chaos.

How do you stop that from happening? As you get involved in solving problems, pause and reflect frequently to make sure everybody is on the same page about the task at hand.

You could get clarity at the workplace by asking these questions:

1. What is the problem we’re trying to solve?

2. What will it take to get this done?

3. What is our best and worst-case scenario?

How does this help? The first question will push team members to take a pause from finding the ‘right solution’ and instead reflect on whether they are even working on the ‘right problem’.

When a crisis hits, teams often skip establishing what needs to be done and jump to firefight. To save time and face, members quickly begin fixing their end of things. Sooner or later, they discover that they’ve drifted in different directions.

This is when you have to ask, “What is the problem that we are trying to solve?”. It’s a pivotal question that quashes the unstated assumption that everyone has the same understanding of the situation. Once everyone arrives at a consensus on what the problem is, it becomes easier for members to look through the same lens and move in the right direction.

Let’s turn to the next question, “What will it take to get this done?”. You should ask this question when team members start going around in circles discussing a course of action. Such discussions often become heated because people start focusing on what cannot be done instead of what must be done.

But when you start thinking about potential answers to this question, you’ll find yourself focusing on possibilities instead of limitations. Often, good plans emerge when teams brainstorm collectively to find out what works instead of what doesn’t.

The last question that must be a part of every ‘pre-mortem’ is, “What is our best and worst-case scenario?” Often teams are so laser-focused on meeting the targets they fail to factor in Murphy’s Law which says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Finding answers to this question shifts the team’s perspective from the happen-or-cannot-happen binary to a spectrum of possibilities between the best and worst-case scenarios. You can plan for everything that lies in between. You can start discussing several other scenarios and prepare your team for expected eventualities.

These questions are relevant in any workplace setting where one senses confusion. Think of them as a reflection tool, a continuous feedback loop that helps correct you and your team’s trajectory while solving problems and tackling crises.

At the end of the day, you have to ensure that your team ends up solving the right problem. The struggle though, in the words of English writer G.K. Chesterton is often, “It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.”

Nishant Singh is a Senior Specialist, Curriculum at Harappa Education. A graduate from NIT Uttarakhand and a Young India Fellow, Nishant trains for marathons, studies photographs and dreams of biryani.


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