Roberta's Rules: Meetings and More

July 2, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Roberta's Rules of Order, author @ 10:23 am

In the mid-1980’s I developed a quality improvement process in a large bank called Work Improvement Network (WIN) resembling Quality Circles.  Quality Circles include problem-solving methods used in the US aerospace industry that were taught to the Japanese and adapted to their consensus culture. (US manufacturing then learned the group approach from the Japanese and adapted it back to our culture.)   Other than manufacturing, only a few banks and service organizations with no products had Quality Circles at the time.  What did I learn that is still useful today – and could be helpful to you?


My primary insight was that problems are situations that cannot always be “solved” and disappear.  However, they can often be reduced to a “livable level”.  I also learned that best way to solve a problem is to FIRST understand and agree that the situation IS a problem. Then find the root causes (what’s keeping it stuck) that can be addressed.

Interaction Associates, a consulting firm headquartered in Boston with offices in San Francisco and Belfast, Ireland teaches: “if you can’t get people to agree on the problem, you’ll have (a LOT of) trouble getting them to agree on the solution(s).   Watch debates on C-SPAN of Parliament or Congress, and you’ll see this in practice.


The key is to not jump to solutions (a tendency in the US culture) but state the situation factually and reach agreement on the problem BEFORE seeking a solution.   Interaction Associates calls it working within the “problem space” before the “solution space”.  If this sounds too “spacey”, think about putting the majority of a group’s effort into stating and agreeing on the problem. This allows a group to agree on something (exercising those agreement muscles) before proceeding.

This opens the door to find out what is REALLY going on, such as what is causing the problem.  Isolating and understanding the key cause is the “mother lode” to finding the right solution or multiple solutions.

Think of reducing a problem or seeking new opportunities, rather than finding the ‘magic bullet” called a solution.  Some problems may never be “solved” but the situation can be improved.


From working with about 30 WIN teams a week, I observed the following:

(1) People often want to solve the problems they have no control over.  Understanding the problem first can lead a group to refer the issue to another more appropriate group with the expertise and authority to improve the situation.

(2) The problem, or something similar, has probably been solved somewhere else.  Researching competitors and looking into an organization’s own history will yield good information.  Was there a time this problem didn’t exist her and why?  Is there a group or organization that has tackled this situation and improved it?

Please comment: What are your observations about problem solving and the “best practices” you’ve discovered?


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