An Issue Identified is an Issue Solved

Endless Discussion loop

One step in my process with my clients is to observe a Level-10 meeting about 3 months into our journey together. Level-10 meetings are weekly, 90 minutes and include the leadership team of an organization.  One of the goals in this meeting is to prioritize and permanently solve short-term issues plaguing your organization. If you are running the meetings well, there will be 60 minutes to spend solving issues – what we at EOS call IDS. 

IDS stands for Identity, Discuss and Solve. It is a simple tool designed to help leadership teams effectively SOLVE their issues. What often happens in meetings is lots and lots of DISCUSSING without identifying the real (root) issue. Rarely does the discussion end with a plan of attack to solve the issue. When I observe an L-10 meeting (quietly in the background with my legal pad), two areas consistently fall short: excessive discussion both during reporting and during IDS. 

In a couple of recent observations, I once again witnessed the greatest weakness of ALL of my teams when they are new on their EOS journey. It is the ability to IDS, or solve issues. Let me explain. 

These teams are brilliant groups of leaders running thriving businesses ($7-$15 million in annual revenue). Each team progresses through the top part of the agenda with only minor deviances from avoiding discussion during reporting (discussing, it turns out, is a hard habit to break!). Then we get to the meat of the meeting: IDS. Like most of my clients at this stage, the Issues Lists are lengthy. Each team starts by prioritizing their top 3 issues (with varying degrees of efficiency) and then begins with issue number one. And this is when they (like EVERY other team) fall into old habits. 

Example 1: The team begins with Issue #1 and immediately starts discussing the issue. They do this for eight minutes, then someone asks, “Is the issue getting paid for this invoice or is it a culture fit with the vendor?”.  They had skipped the I in IDS and not actually specifically identified the issue. By being specific about identifying the issue before discussing it,  you avoid solving the wrong problem and the need to start over.  

Example 2:. Again, we tackle an issue, in this instance it is the third priority  which is about what positions to hire next (how many and in what order). This discussion chewed up the remaining 30 minutes; however, very quickly (within 3-4 minutes) it had become apparent that the team lacked the necessary resources to make any decisions. Rather than identifying the real issue and being able to jump right to Solve (someone agrees to collect the data and send it to the team prior to next week’s meeting), the group circled the drain and did not make any progress. 

Example 3: This team struggled to choose their top 3 issues, but when they did they dug into their first issue with a vengeance. And there they remained for 45 minutes until it was time to conclude the meeting. The issue revolved around a punch list. As I am sure you have surmised, they began discussing the issue immediately without clarifying the real issue. The conversation careened and rabbit-trailed in many different directions. There was so little focus that determining action steps was nearly impossible. The members involved were, in a word, frustrated.

What might surprise you, is that this is typical.  I could give countless examples; these were just the most recent. This is why the L-10 observation is a vital part of our Proven Process.  Once the skill and discipline to effectively IDS has been developed–these same teams will likely plow through 6 or 7 issues. 

Here is how I illustrate what I am seeing: iDs vs IdS. I encourage my teams to first Identity the issue. Dig down and determine the root cause, the true issue. Often this is different from what is written on the board or document.  If you aren’t sure what the issue actually is-deploy the 5 Whys: ask why up to 5 times until you get to the root cause. Ask: is it a people issue or a process issue? You may discover there are two issues or perhaps more than one root cause to address. If so, determine which issue is the priority this week. An issue identified is an issue solved. If you do this first step well, often there is very little to discuss. 

Sometimes teams are afraid to state the real issue, to ‘rip off the bandaid’. This is especially true when the root cause of an issue is a people issue. If discussion is warranted, everyone should be heard. However, once the conversation becomes redundant (repeating yourself is just politicking), it is time for a decision. To-do’s are recorded based on the action item needed to solve the issue. 

A great team working together can solve any issue-but only if you first Identify that issue! Remember, this is a learned skill that takes practice and discipline, but the results are worth the effort.  You will save countless hours in needless discussions. And when you solve root issues, as opposed to symptoms, those issues go away forever instead of more ‘symptoms’ cropping up because you didn’t solve the real issue plaguing your business.  I know from experience that when you IDS well, your issues list gets shorter over time. And the issues that make it on the list (problems, ideas, or opportunities) are bigger and meatier; bringing about better results for your business. 

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