Troubleshooting Troubleshooting: Problems with Solving Problems

Today I attended a meeting organized by a higher-up in a different department. The goal of the meeting was to organize a new procedure to deal with some minor inconveniences in the flow of samples through the company. The meeting was also a failure – nothing was accomplished, and few people left knowing more than they did when the meeting began.

I was not originally invited to the meeting. In fact, the meeting was specifically organized to focus on interactions between three departments, none of which I am a member of. However, at the earlier weekly meeting, I brought up a few ideas I had on how to address the difficulties that the later meeting would focus on, and those ideas earned me a chair at the later conversation. Ultimately, my ideas were made irrelevant when considering the real nature of the problem, which I did not realize until the meeting was halfway over, but I did not regret joining in on the conversation. It featured a discussion on one of the areas of the company I know little about and provided me an excellent example to discuss here.

The true difficulty of the meeting was found in the way that the leading was run. The person who managed the meeting did not control it sufficiently, and the conversation quickly turned from the intended topic to a discussion on the minutiae that would be better suited for another occasion. While the minutiae was appreciated by the person who led the meeting, as well as myself, because it was an insight into a process that was unknown to us, it delayed the discussion on the important topics of the meeting. Given the strict 30-minute time-table of the meeting, it was a major delay. Additionally, the conversation about this minutiae was somewhat confrontational as the two speakers, one of whom was the leader, spoke over one another to have their points heard. This, I believe, extended the length of the conversation even further.

I realized partway in that any solution to the problem would be difficult to agree upon, because there are many different departments who could solve it. Attending the meeting were all the people who could have solved the problem. The leader of the meeting brought the problem to the attention of the others. The others (excluding myself) were specialists in their role, and each could bring a different solution to the table. However, for each of them, solving the problem would mean taking additional work upon themselves. I do not mean to imply here that the people at the meeting are lazy, but I do mean to state that they are busy. The company is still growing, and many people are responsible for more than they can handle already. I regret to say that I was one of the few people at the meeting with the free time available to tackle a solution, but I did not have the experience. Unfortunately, I am in the wrong department.

This issue has not been resolved, and thus a future meeting will doubtless happen. Given that I was not able to add much to this one, I may not be invited, but I am still interested to see how this works out.

One thought on “Troubleshooting Troubleshooting: Problems with Solving Problems

  • August 1, 2019 at 10:58 am

    So, it sounds as though your primary critique is that the individual running the meeting did not do so effectively; they let the topic wander, they let individuals get caught in details that were not the discussion points at the moment, they didn’t have some particular outcomes outlined for the meeting or set some ‘next steps’ at the conclusion, correct? In several reflections now you’ve noted challenges/problems and often in the context of ‘leader/follower relationships.’ I realize it is difficult when you are working in one department (or perhaps two departments) of an organization with multiple departments to always get a sense of the bigger picture, but do you have a sense of how decisions are made? Are senior level leaders making decisions about projects to pursue, procedures to alter and/or establish, etc.? Do the department heads meet collectively and make these kinds of decisions? Could be beneficial to understand where the decisions are being made – not so that you can give those individuals advice as how to fix things, but to understand where in the system things are breaking down, not begin thought through completely, etc.

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