I’ve probably mentioned this before but my biggest pet peeve at work is that people can’t problem solve. Working in the construction industry where we come across problems on a daily basis this is especially frustrating. Looking through some old notes this week, I found some examples of problems that were difficult to solve until I got some women involved.
In the male-dominated workplace when a problem arises, solving the problem can take a distant back seat to being a competition of status. The first concern is who is to blame for the problem. In the autonomous, expertise driven Blue Zone, a problem occurred because someone did something wrong. Watching men try to assign blame to each other is literally like watching a game of hot potato played around the conference table. What they fail to understand is that the problem arose out of complexity and the inability of the male-dominated workplace to adequately deal with complex issues that require the integration of three or more parties. No one person or team is to blame – they way men operate is to blame.
Once blame is assigned to either someone who isn’t present or no longer with the company, then attention is turned to the generation of ideas on how to solve the problem. I love this part! Every man must voice a solution or opinion or risk being considered irrelevant. Some of the ideas can be fairly far fetched but at least he said something. Over a period of time men will start dropping their idea in favor of adopting another man’s idea until there are two or three solutions left. Now it becomes really interesting as they try to decide on solution. Picking a solution really about picking a winner but the problem is that there is a 900 lb gorilla in the room – they know neither of the solutions is a complete solution. The reason they problem occurred in the first place was due to a lack of coordination or integrating all parties. Those same issues are preventing them from coming up with a complete solution. If left to their own devices then no solution is accepted. The problem just lingers on and on and on.
An even worse outcome is when the men convince themselves a half-baked solution will work and charge full speed ahead down this path. This always winds up generating new compounding problems that in my experience take an inordinant amount of time and energy to untangle and resolve. So I am always glad when they decide to do nothing instead.
Unlike other people I tell women not to jump in while every man is busy voicing his opinion. Instead just listen to the ideas. Then when the discussion simmers down and the men are vying for their idea to be deemed the winner that is when you start speaking up. As women we are better at seeing the big picture. By listening to all of the ideas, you start putting together the big picture. It is like working a jig saw puzzle. You know what information you have and you know there are missing pieces – you don’t know exactly what they are but you know something about what they look like. So you start asking questions and integrating the ideas. The men will continue to voice their ideas, if they have any – and that is a big if. The missing information is often information no one at the table. So now instead of the problem just lingering, there is a path forward.
In my experience when it comes to problem solving in the male-dominated workplace men are good at generating the basic building blocks of ideas and women are good at assembling the blocks and driving the group to a decision. This is a natural skill all women should practice and become very comfortable with. Start doing this within your own peer group and you will find that the men are receptive. Then as you grow in confidence you will find yourself doing the same thing in meetings with more senior managers. We often make the mistake thinking that senior managers have better decision making skills than our peers but they often fall into the same trap. Speaking up in front of senior managers and helping them come to a conclusion on a decision is a great way to get noticed.
Having problem solving and decision making skills are the most important skills to have in business so those are what you need to hone. A lot of your male peers will concentrate on building their expertise in the profession or trade and keep a narrow focus. Women don’t do that, we always keep a wide perspective. As a woman, you want to take the expertise of your peers and continuously bring it all together for planning, decision making and problem solving. When you build that expertise, you are no longer in competition with your male peers, you compliment their skills. This is also the foundation of leadership and you prepare yourself for larger leadership positions.
Empowered women are leaders who use their inherent female traits to compliment the traits of their male colleagues for the betterment of the company.