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Ask Ian & Kate: How do I enable my team to deal with problems at the source?

Published 29th Sep 2022

“I often find myself putting out fires left, right and centre for my team members, and although I am glad they feel like they can come to me with their challenges at work, it’s quite draining having to sort out everyone’s problems all the time. Do you have any advice, or is this just part of being a manager?”

  • Jack, Birmingham

This is a great question, and I know that most managers will either a) feel the same way, or b) have felt this way at some point in their careers. The first thing to note is you’re not alone, and it’s great that your team members feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns and asking for help. This just demonstrates that not only do they trust you, but they also value your opinion and know that with your level of experience comes the ability to solve problems.

However, if you are constantly solving other people’s problems for them, the problems themselves will continue to arise. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is it that keeps asking you for help solving problems? Is it everyone on your team in general, or is it always specific people?
  • What types of problems do people expect you to solve? Are they minor issues, or bigger challenges?
  • How much time do you spend solving problems for other people in comparison to completing your own tasks?

When we look at the first question, this is to determine if it is just general consensus within your team that you will be able to help them, or if specific people asking you has become a bit of a pattern. Either way, changes need to be made. 

A process needs to be put in place within your team to ensure that they come to you when they need to, not simply whenever they want to. If they need your advice or guidance, fine – but if they are coming to you as a first port of call whenever they encounter something difficult, they aren’t learning or developing their own problem-solving skills.

And, of course, if it’s specific people on your team who repeatedly come to you with their issues, make sure you sit down and talk to these people. Ask how you can help them in the long-term – for example, do they need additional training? – to streamline the problem-solving process for everyone involved. 

As for the second question, this one is important – this will help you determine what types of challenges your employees are facing, and as a result, you can start to solve these problems at the source to avoid repeating the process in the future. Is there a problem with internal processes that are limiting people’s ability to do their jobs properly? Is there a product or service issue that is preventing people from being productive? Are your team members in need of additional or updating training? Are your tech systems up to date? Whatever it is that you find, make sure you deal with the bigger picture to avoid being pulled from every angle about the same things in the future.

As for the third question, this one is simply to put things in perspective for you. Spend a couple of weeks making a note of how much time per day you spend solving problems for your team as opposed to what you had on your to-do list for that day. When you look back, you’ll be able to see just how much time could be saved if you were to empower your team and enable them to face their own challenges, as opposed to always expecting you to fix things for them.

As mentioned, it’s great that your team trusts you and feels comfortable communicating their problems with you, because for a lot of leaders this isn’t necessarily the case (and that’s a whole other problem in itself!). But, if you’re doing other people’s jobs as well as your own, when you could invest the time and energy into solving problems at the source to avoid rework down the line, then something needs to change.

Being a manager can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding – make sure you coach your team members on how to solve their own problems in the workplace, as this skill is invaluable, no matter what industry or sector you work in.

Got a question for Ian and Kate?

If you’ve got an issue or work-related question you’d like to put to Ian and Kate and their network of HR experts, email enquiries@mccarthyrecruitment.com with the subject line “Ask Ian & Kate”. We can’t answer every question, but we will try our best to point you in the right direction.

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