Disciplined Issues Management: Turning organizational ‘breakdowns into breakthroughs’

Author: Justine Chinoperekweyi, Ph.D

What does it take to design and implement a disciplined issues resolution process? Reluctance to tackle issues, take a stand, or confront colleagues can result in failure to avert problems and seize opportunities.

We live in periods of complexity & chaos, crises are a fact of organizational life. From the small, not-for-profit organization to the global, multi-national corporation, crises can suddenly disrupt an organization’s ability to efficiently and effectively achieve its mission. Organizational crises rapidly consume unbudgeted financial and human resources and diminish an organization’s reputation and goodwill. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic, social, and political fallout from organizational crises have been significant.

Complexity and Chaos in organizations lead to conflict and/or tensions; hence the need to enhance ambidexterity competencies. Difficult times serve as a sort of crucible, forging leaders and consultants through fire. Disciplined issues management process is a prerequisite for co-creating high-value teams and high-value organizations. During periods of rapid change and uncertainty, the speed at which issues are resolved can make or break your company. Therefore, organizational leaders need to confront the practice of “parking” troublesome issues or placing them on long lists. High-performance leaders of great teams clear the bottlenecks, gain momentum, and resolve issues rapidly by having a logical, disciplined issue-resolution process. Resolution, not stagnation, should become the norm when leaders manage issues the high-performance way.

According to Churchill, “There are two types of people: those who see difficulty in every opportunity, and those who see opportunity in every difficulty.” Organizations that pursue co-creating high-value teams need to nurture exploration and exploitation competencies among its people and develop a critical mass of people who see opportunity in every difficulty. Having people with the possibility-seeking mindset helps in co-creating service cultures.

Issues management is a battle of many fronts and organizational leaders need to appreciate that issues are inevitable in an open system and in rapidly changing business environment. What are some of the issues that weaken the organization’s ability to avert problems and seize opportunities? The following are three examples (sources of organizational issues) that I have personally helped clients manage:

  • Lack of collaboration among teams,
  • Culture that doesn’t reinforce accountability,
  • Reluctance to tackle thorny issues, or take a stand, fear of confronting colleagues.

In dealing with these issues in a client system (designing a disciplined, logical issue-resolution process), we started by helping leaders appreciate the difference between technical and adaptive challenges and as such approaches to deal with these challenges. Through facilitating good conversations, we took the client system on a journey to clear bottlenecks, gain momentum and resolve issues. We emphasized gaining and sharing knowledge as an approach to value creation.

Without following a linear approach to issues management, our three groups of consulting radicals adopted and adapted the following dynamic process of issues management:

  • Defining issues from an opportunity standpoint

The team of radicals were guided by Otto Sharmer’s Theory U’s co-initiating and co-sensing so as to define the issues. In line with the Appreciative Inquiry approach, the radicals were encouraged to focus more on the opportunity for which some action was to be taken. Brainstorming sessions were facilitated and the Client System representative led the facilitation process.

  • Identifying issues

The co-sensing approach from Theory U and the Discovery stage of Appreciative Inquiry informed the identification of the issues. The Lead Consultant was tasked to capture the discussion and list the key themes from the interactions.

  • Clarifying issues

Emphasis was made to facilitate clarity around the issues that were raised by the client system. The Lead Consultant facilitated the conversations and members from the client system interpreted the issues using their organizational language.

  • Setting priorities

The Lead Client representative was tasked to facilitated the session on reviewing and setting priorities using a scale of High, Medium, Low. The prioritization process was facilitated based on impact and urgency.

  • Action planning

The team engaged in Action Planning, starting with high priority items. A comprehensive plan was developed and the client system determined the major steps that were needed to gain closure. At this stage the Lead Consultant emphasized creating space to capture emergent issues in an open system. This emphasis was made in order to minimize the jump-to-conclusion temptation. The co-creation element of Theory U and Design stage in Appreciative Inquiry were used as guiding approaches.

  • Keeping it visible

An issues log was designed indicating the list of action items. This issues log was considered essential in facilitating resolution of the identified issues. Emphasis was made to ensure the issues log was updated on a regular basis and in real time.

  • Focusing on accountability

For each activity item on the issues log, the Lead Client representative in consultation with other organizational members identified a point person to ensure the job will be done.

The following helped in facilitating effective issues management process:

  • Supporting senior leaders in reframing their own mindsets and emotional sets around the issue
  • Dealing with core management pitfalls (Secrecy, Blame, Hope, Hedge) in order to ensure co-initiation, co-sensing, presencing, co-creation, and co-evolving
  • Leveraging what was universal on the team (vision, mission, values of the organization)
  • Turning fear and doubt into confidence through clarity and enhanced sense of ownership
  • Multiple feedback sessions at every stage

We learnt that with a disciplined issues management process, organizations can turn breakdowns into breakthroughs. In designing, implementing and evaluating the process, collaborative capital is key.

To learn more, write to justine@centreold.com. For advisory & consulting services, write to adminsupport@centreold.com

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