Are You Investing Enough In Your Team’s Problem Solving Skills?

investing in problem solving skills

As we explored in my last article, The Martian, by Andy Weir, provides a dramatic parallel to some of our most challenging professional situations.  We previously talked about empowering our teams and people. In this article, we’ll focus on the remaining two business questions we posed:

How important is our ability to solve problems and depend on our individual skills and strengths? And how critical is our investment not only in our teams but in each individual?

How important is our ability to solve problems and depend on our individual skills and strengths?

The title character in the book, Mark “The Martian” Watney, was well educated and seemingly pretty intelligent (though he hated disco, which defies thinking).  And while his education and brains served him well, it was his problem solving ability that saved his life in the end.

He had the confidence to know that whatever was thrown at him, he could manipulate some solution. Like MacGyver, in space.

As professionals, thinking quickly on our feet is often the difference between gaining our clients’ trust and letting them down.  Most corporate leaders place a premium on their managers’ and personnel’s ability to not just complete the task at hand, but more importantly, ebb and flow to the dynamic nature of the business environment.

Quick thinking, and being “in the moment” is something you can help your team work on.  We use improv comedy as a way to put people in uncomfortable situations and have them practice the art of quick thinking.

How critical is our investment not only in our teams but in each individual?

One key concept The Martian touches on is the value of a single human life.

When you cut through the witty Sol entries, the ingenious problem solving, and the harsh reality of being alone on a different planet, this story is about individuals, teams, organizations, and countries all working towards the goal of saving someone on Mars.

Communications are near impossible, the schedule to supply or save him is laughable, and the technical hurdles are consistently daunting.  But through it all, enormous sums of money, sleepless nights (weeks), and bureaucratic/political maneuvering, every last effort is spent to save this individual.  His original crew even put themselves in dire straits, all for the opportunity to save his life.

Most of us don’t work in a corporate environment where so much is at stake.  However, the story parallel does emphasize for us the criticality of considering how important our investment decisions are for our teams and individuals.  Our capital resources, our human resources, and the planning investment we make are all considerations we face regarding our teams and individuals.

As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to take a step back and intentionally consider how our corporate stakeholders, policies, processes, structure — everything about our organizational context — affect our teams and individuals.  If we’ve let this evolve over time and haven’t made careful and deliberate decisions about our investment in culture, we risk ineffectiveness and ultimately the loss of customers and personnel.

Ultimately, our titular character (spoiler) makes it home.  And his opportunity to survive comes from the three business concepts we’ve explored over these two articles:

Empowering our teams to survive and thrive on their own.

Encouraging and seeking out problem solvers.

Making critical investment decisions about our teams and individuals.


Sol 57 – Houston, I’m coming home.