Our thinking has created problems which cannot be solved by that same level of thinking. – Albert Einstein
A problem presents itself; people work very hard to solve it; they decide on an action that appears to be a change for the better; yet, after a period of time, it becomes clear that although the surface issue may have been resolved, the basic problem has not been touched.
In the results of an organizational-effectiveness survey that the author helped to develop one item began to show up as highly predictive of the success or productivity of a company: “Even though my fellow team members and I agree to solutions, the same problems keep coming back over and over again.” The score on this item is among the lowest for every organization surveyed, regardless of location, size, or type of industry. It appears that organizations in the U.S. do a lot of what is called “problem solving” without addressing the real issues or problems. Typically, the things that need to be discovered and changed continue to exist just under the surface of the group’s attention, then rise to the surface somewhere else as the same or “another” problem.
This happens for two reasons:
1. The solution agreed to was not a good one because it failed to contact the deeper issue of which the “problem” was a manifestation; or
2. People did not follow through on what they decided. (It might have been a good decision, but nobody carried it out.)
The STRIDE process is designed to identify the root issue(s) and to produce high-quality solutions that are actually carried out. The process also creates the potential for a “breakthrough,” which is very different from the typical “solution.”
A breakthrough is a fundamental shift in the situation, usually experienced as a basic or profound change in the way those involved “hold” or view the problem. A breakthrough is a new way of thinking. It creates the space for something totally new to happen. People explore the “problem” at a different level than the one at which it shows itself at first; they “get to the bottom of things.”
A breakthrough solution is always accompanied by unusual amounts of energy released in the people involved as well as by a high level of confidence in the ultimate success of the decision, even in the face of early evidence to the contrary. This happens because of a strong commitment to see that the solution works.
The Ingredients of a Breakthrough
It often happens that all of the information needed for a successful resolution of a situation is already present in the system. For example, three incidents from U.S. history—the Titanic disaster, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the war in Vietnam—all revealed that people had data and points of view that, if brought forward and accepted, could have produced the breakthrough decisions needed.
Valuable information or a crucial point of view may not be recognized by the person who holds it, much less by the group; or it may not be available in the right format at the right time in order to be utilized. After a breakthrough occurs, people usually say, “That was simple; why didn’t we think of it earlier?”
The STRIDE process is a common-sense method for creating the mental environment (the frame of mind) in which a breakthrough can occur. It is designed to help a group to determine and find access to the information it needs (1) to address a problem, not a symptom; (2) to make an intelligent decision about what to do; (3) to obtain sufficient commitment to guarantee success; and (4) to be able to determine how the solution is working later.
In “breaking through,” there is a clear sense of hurdling or surmounting an almost tangible mental boundary. This boundary represents the group’s (or person’s) belief in the existence of certain limits or circumstances, characterized as a “mental rut” or a pattern in the way that problems are approached. This mental rut is, in most cases, a major contributor to the problem, the inability to solve it, and the frustration that results.
Resistance to Breakthroughs: Why We Fight the Best Solutions
Ironically, most groups have a natural resistance to obtaining the breakthroughs they are seeking. We are afraid of the alternatives, of what might be “outside.” People instinctively realize that in attaining something, they must give something up; and the way that one has been thinking about something is very personal and, thus, very precious.
By unwittingly holding on to a problem while “trying” to solve it, we allow ourselves to retain our view of the way things are. Many of us would rather be “right” and have valid reasons for why things do not work than be willing to be “wrong” about something and obtain the results we want.
Conditions for Breakthrough Problem Solving
In order to achieve breakthrough, the individual or the group must be in the right frame of mind (context) and then think about the right things at the right time (process). The context is characterized by four conditions. They must exist before the problem is attacked. Within this context, however, virtually any problem-solving process will work.
Alignment implies a “critical mass” of participants around the ultimate purpose or mission of the group and agreement about how the breakthrough will contribute to it. This means that the people involved in the process must agree on the overall purpose of the larger system. To generate sufficient commitment to achieve breakthrough, the effort must be connected to something “big” and must be important to everyone in the system. People must perceive the opportunity that is inherent in the breakthrough. There also must be clarity and agreement about how the final decision will be made, that is, how much influence the group will have and how much influence the boss will have. It is imperative that this be clear in each person’s mind before the process begins.
Each individual in the group must believe that the others will do what they say they will do. In a context of mistrust, no breakthrough is possible except, perhaps, to create a shift toward greater trust. It is imperative that a condition of integrity characterize the discussion and decision making. If this condition does not exist to begin with, everyone must commit to make it happen, regardless of the past, and then act accordingly.
The people involved must be willing to take 100-percent responsibility for resolving the situation. The group must identify the ones who have the power to create the change. Blaming someone else or waiting for something else to change creates an atmosphere of powerlessness in which breakthrough cannot occur. Only those who decide—often despite common sense or “fairness” or the chain of command—to take 100 percent of the responsibility for producing the breakthrough will be in a position to make a difference.
An example of this can be seen when two people attempt to shake hands. If both of them simply extend their hands, the hands may not meet. If, however, one person takes responsibility for making it happen, he or she will reach out and pursue the other person’s hand until the two make contact. Progress is rarely made when people limit their efforts to a portion of what is needed.
If there is commitment, the group goes on record that it will make the breakthrough happen, no matter what. Commitment implies the will and the energy to make the breakthrough occur.
Creating the Right Context
Any group, no matter what its history, can decide to act in accordance with the four conditions just described. In fact, just the act of reaching agreement about these conditions may change the nature of the “problem.” The lack of one or more of these conditions may be the real problem that needs to be solved.
To help the group to prepare for the STRIDE process, each member must do the following:
1. Tell the truth, at least to himself or herself.
2. Adopt the position that “I don’t know…” rather than “I already know….”
3. Be willing to let go of whatever is not working.
4. Keep the image of the transformed situation and the ultimate mission in mind at all times.
5. Approach the problem-solving session as if it definitely could transform the situation.
6. Allow any cynicism and resistance to be transformed by the process.
Each member must think of the breakthrough process as a holographic one. The “problem” is actually a manifestation of something else. The group members must ask, “What is this specific problem trying to tell us about our group or situation?” and “What still will be left unresolved even if we successfully resolve this specific problem?” Each “trip” through the STRIDE questions may produce a new awareness of the situation, and the process may have to be repeated again and again until the group reaches the “source issue” or root of the problem. Every superficial solution produces new dilemmas.
When the group generates a breakthrough concept or proposal, everything else will be seen in a transformed perspective. Any new problems that may be engendered by the solution will not seem to matter very much. The group’s whole way of approaching the situation will change, even though many of the details of the situation may appear
THE STRIDE PROCESS
S: The Situation Now
Any breakthrough must start with what is. Clearly identifying the present situation, including any pain in it, can help to provide the commitment needed later. The potential breakthrough is an opportunity implicit in the current reality.
The group members must identify the following:
1. What is happening now in the situation that we intend to transform?
2. What is a recent, concrete example of the problem?
3. What/how is the situation costing the group or organization? Who is suffering the most?
4. Who else do we need to be talking with (or involving in our deliberations) if we are to succeed? Who is affected by or will have to carry out our solution? How should we involve these people?
5. When we have produced a breakthrough in this area, how will it impact our mission/purpose?
6. Where is the impetus for change coming from? Who currently “owns” the problem?
T: The Target
When you don’t know where you are going, you’re liable to end up somewhere else.
A clear picture of the possibility that a breakthrough represents is necessary to direct efforts toward it. Groups that focus only on the problem achieve less than do groups that focus on desired outcomes. The following questions can help the group members to develop a “target”:
1. What would success look like? What will happen/not be happening (in concrete examples) when we create the breakthrough?
2. Who shares this picture of the way things could be? Who would like to see this picture become reality?
3. How should these people/groups be involved in the process?
One way to help the group members to envision the way things could be is to use guided imagery. Group members may be directed to close their eyes, to travel into the future, and to hover over various aspects of the situation, listening to and noticing the things that surprise and delight them—things they never thought could be achieved. Many useful insights, as well as positive mindsets, are generated by this process.
R: Reasons/Restraining Forces
An accurate analysis of the forces that restrain or oppose a solution or breakthrough is necessary. The group members also must identify the “opposition,” that is, people who may hinder the envisioned solution. There usually are several reasons that a problem continues to exist. Every problem serves some function in the situation and will leave a hole when the breakthrough occurs.
The group must accomplish two things in order to deal with these issues:
1. Determine why the problem continues to exist. (Why has it not taken care of itself?)
2. Conduct and draw a force-field analysis of the situation. (What is working for and against a breakthrough in the situation?)
I: Identifying Key Restraints/Ideas
It is necessary to identify the one or two most important aspects of the analysis of the situation developed thus far. A single factor, or a cluster of them, usually emerges or is sensed by the group. If the members can agree to a commitment to transform that factor or cluster, they have won half of the battle. The following questions may help in this process:
1. Which of the restraining forces are both significant and reducible?
2. Which ones seem closest to the source of the issue?
3. What specifically needs to happen that is inhibited by these forces?
4. What might the group do about these things?
To decide to do something means to commit 100 percent. It helps to be clear from the beginning about how the final decision will be made and by whom. If this information about the decision is not clear, resistance, reluctance to commit, or picky arguments about details may emerge. If the group is aligned as well as committed, progress will be greatly enhanced. The following questions can help the group members to ready themselves for action:
1. What do we agree to do? Are we willing to commit ourselves 100 percent to do this?
2. What do we need to have others do?
3. What is our plan of action? Who will do what? By when?
E: Evidence of Success/Evaluation
This is an important step that is often overlooked. It closes the loop and creates accountability and expectancy. When signs of success are identified, the breakthrough is supported and nurtured in the face of resistance. The following questions will help the group members to evaluate their progress:
1. What will be the signs of success?
2. Who will be responsible for ensuring that these things are achieved?
3. What evidence will convince us that a breakthrough has occurred?
4. How long will it take for us to decide or know?
5. How will we celebrate or acknowledge our success?
During the STRIDE process, the group must check continually to ensure that all four contextual conditions (alignment, integrity, responsibility, commitment) are present. If one or more is absent, the group must stop the process and work on the contextual issue(s).
Although the process is presented in a linear sequence, it need not occur in that order. If a great idea emerges, it may be most feasible to work outward from there, going backward and forward in the model until all of the steps have been covered. If confronted by an obstacle, the group members would be wise to start with identification of the restraining forces and proceed from there.
As with any new process or skill, the time that it takes (and the self-consciousness that it engenders) to use the process diminishes as the process or skill becomes familiar and as experience is gained in using it. After a while, it can become part of the way in which the group operates.
HOW TRAINERS AND CONSULTANTS CAN USE THE PROCESS
With a work team or other type of group, the STRIDE process can be used for problem solving. A suggested format for this use is as follows:
1. Deliver a lecturette on the four contextual conditions necessary for breakthrough.
2. Obtain a statement of group alignment on the ultimate purpose or mission of the group or organization.
3. Ask “Who is willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring that a breakthrough occurs here?” Do not proceed until at least one solid commitment has been made.
4. Deliver a lecturette on the STRIDE process.
5. Post a sheet of newsprint on the wall and record all aspects of the STRIDE process. Tell the group members not to worry about “getting ahead” or “being off the subject.”
6. Start with the situation and move ahead.
7. Stop periodically to check for the four contextual conditions.
The process can be used as a consulting model to guide the conditions required in one’s working relationships with clients. A description of the STRIDE process can be distributed to key participants, and the similarity between STRIDE and an action-research model of change can be pointed out.
The STRIDE process can be used as an interviewing framework or in making a first personal or telephone contact. Covering each of the steps in the STRIDE process creates a framework for the discussion and helps to keep it on track.
In designing training events, the consultant/trainer can use the model to ask the client the right questions. Substituting “Design” for “Do” turns STRIDE into a
HOW MANAGERS CAN USE THE PROCESS
STRIDE is particularly effective as a problem-solving process, both in meetings and for thinking through a problem alone before deciding how to handle it. STRIDE also has value as a model of transition management because it clarifies how one wants to work with a new group or organization. Finally, the process can serve as a consultant-client model from the manager’s point of view, to guide the consultant in dealing with the manager’s issues and in working with the manager and his or her people.
R. Wade Younger, CSP
401 North Tryon Street
Charlotte, North Carolina, 28202, U.S.A
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