Suzanne surveyed the options: "Grill" (that meant burgers and fries), "Garden" (that meant salad bar), "Home" (that meant hot and boring), and "World" (today it was East Asia). She noticed that Matteo was at the salad bar, so she decided to do salad today, and headed over there with her tray.
As she reached for the lettuce tongs, Matteo nodded to her and said, "I hate salad."
Suzanne couldn't resist. "Good," she said. "More for the rest of us who hate salad."
Matteo chuckled. "So what'd you think of Lynn's idea?"
Suzanne reached for the cottage cheese spoon. "I think it might work. We have to fill in some holes, but it just might work."
"I agree," said Matteo. "She has a real gift for finding the third way."
Matteo is referring to Lynn's knack for finding a new way to look at things, to bring unity into an otherwise polarized debate. It's one of the skills of people I call Problem-Solving Ambassadors.
In the context of dispersed or global teams, we often meet face-to-face for problem-solving sessions. To manage our travel budgets, we send delegations to these meetings, usually selected for their domain knowledge and problem-solving skills.
And this is where we sometimes err. We choose people for these meetings using the same criterion — domain expertise — that we use for the face-to-face context. Although domain knowledge and problem-solving skills are important, a new skill set is required for dispersed teams — the skills of the ambassador.
Here are some tips for finding and choosing problem-solving ambassadors.
- Negotiation skills and empathic skills are critical
- In the dispersed environment the delegations that meet must negotiate agreements that last beyond what anyone can know for certain. Agreements must be much more than technically sound — they must support the agendas of the parties well enough to make adherence the best alternative. Problem solving alone won't cut it.
- Seek balance
- Problem-solving ambassadors do have problem-solving skills, and they are well versed in the subject matter of the meeting. But they need not be the most well versed people available, because we're willing to trade off some domain knowledge and problem-solving abilities for ambassadorial skill.
- Look for them where they are
- Seek a balance
of domain knowledge
and ambassadorial skill
- Where do we find problem-solving ambassadors? Because they're relatively gregarious, they're often bored by purely technical work. We find them in technical sales support, or in customer support or customer consulting. Or maybe management.
- Expect varied careers
- Because they appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives, they enjoy breadth more than depth. The paths of their careers pass through many different fields.
And most important, like the Lynn that Matteo and Suzanne were talking about, problem-solving ambassadors thrill in resolving issues between constituencies — in finding the third way. Do you know a problem-solving ambassador? Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
For more about empathy and the uses of empathy, see "The Uses of Empathy," Point Lookout for January 4, 2006.
Ambassadors must be diplomats, and one of the most important skills of diplomacy is a mastery of indirectness. See "Using Indirectness at Work," Point Lookout for December 6, 2006, for more.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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