Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"What problem are we trying to solve?"

I was in a meeting with some folks recently where the leader opened the floor for Suggestions.

At this point the meeting got very quiet. Not everyone in the group is an introvert, but everyone felt the awkwardness and no one wanted to speak up and sound dumb.

I'm not sure what was happening in everyone else's minds at that point, but for myself, I wasn't even sure what we were talking about. We were all staring at a blank whiteboard, going to write down "ideas" about ... something.

I finally asked:

"Man I'm sorry, I'm just not following here. What problem are we trying to solve?"

The leader next listed out three problems that he saw as important. We wrote them down and it kicked the conversation into gear. People started engaging with the list, asking, "Is that a big problem?" or  "Here's how I see that problem manifesting."

Sometimes brainstorming sessions or conversation-starters can be too open. We want to not leave anybody out, and seek ideas from everyone, so we cast such a wide fishing net that it's awkward. The conscious people are wracking their brains trying to figure out what the leader is asking for on this fishing expedition.

Next time you're in a meeting that's really hard to follow, and several folks are falling silent, don't assume it's "just you". Throw yourself under the bus in a whimsical way and ask aloud:

"Sorry, I'm lost. What problem are we trying to solve here?"

The next 20 minutes will be a lot more interesting!


Paul W. Frields said...

Great post! I'm going to use this tip next time I'm lost in the fog of a meeting where I'm trying to contribute but the "open-endedness" has made it hard to figure out how.

ktdreyer said...

Thanks Paul! That's great.