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Find the Root Problem


I recently read a book by Marilee Adams book entitled Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. What I loved about this book is that it focuses on the idea of questioning your thinking. She says, “A world of questions is a world of possibilities” (Adams, 2004, pg. 7). When challenges arise, it is not about coming up with the right answer, but taking a reflective dive to discover the root problem so that it doesn’t occur again.


A few months ago, I was asked by a client to come in and address some of their employee challenges. They shared that employees lacked motivation, weren’t willing to speak up when they saw problems, and each department had silos that prevented effective communication. According to the management team, they have attempted to remedy these problems by creating a gift card lottery, and surprise pizza parties. To me, it was evident in their solutions that rather than identifying the root problem, they simply tried to solve it with a band-aid approach.


In attempts to start exploring the root problem, I shared with the management team that I wanted to start with a Q-Storming session. All employees expressed they had never participated in this type of session and thus I had to lay the groundwork first. According to Shaista Khilji case study:  

Q-Storming is similar to brainstorming. Its goal is to generate as many new questions as possible. It empowers collaborative, creative and strategic thinking. It is a tool for moving beyond limitations in perception and thinking and advancing to new solutions and answers. It is most often used when breakthroughs are sought in decision-making, problem solving, strategic planning, and innovation. (Khilji, 2009, pg. 1.)


By starting with a Q-storming session, all participants were able to share their thoughts and opinions with the group. We were able to create questions as to why they thought these challenges existed. After developing a list of over 50 questions, we were able to narrow down our list down to the ones we felt were most relevant. By the end of the first session, everyone felt that they had topics to think about and could come prepared to the next session.


During the second session, still using the questioning mindset, we asked more questions directly related to the five key challenges we identified from the past session. During each of these sessions I expressed to the team members the importance of staying in the questioning mindset as opposed to the judger mindset. When team members felt that a question was focused more on a judgement rather than a question, we looked for opportunities to reframe the question. As we filtered the questions more and more, by the third session we had a clear understanding of the root problems. We identified that the root causes were one, the organization did not pay well enough to keep their employees motivated and two, they needed to address their company culture. They realized that their initial solutions of pizza and gift cards were not applicable to the challenges they were facing because the root problem was much larger. To create change in the organization they needed to take a deep dive into the organizational design and culture. Though the company takes pride in its local roots, it had lost what had once made it a special place to work. Changes from above to increase productivity, took away from the clan culture that once made the company feel like a home away from home. Employees now felt like a number, rather than a member and thus lost the motivation to continue to work hard.


As we continued to dig into the root causes, the managers realized that the change that was needed in the organization far surpassed their pay grade. In order to create true change, it would have to come from the top but upper leadership was not willing to hear them out. Rather, in attempts to create change, they focused on opportunities to bring the family feel back into the organization. Since Christmas was around the corner, they looked for opportunities such as team white elephants exchanges and a christmas party to create the feeling of family. They also created a photo wall for employees to share pictures of their families using the company product in real life.


This client is a great example of digging below the surface and identify the root problem. Though they were not able to create change to the capacity they desired, they were able to find opportunities for change that not only benefited the management team but also the staff. I challenge you this week to think of a probably you are faced with and find an opportunity to do a Q-Storming session with others. It is time to stop using band-aids and start creating solutions. If you or your organization wants to learn more about Q-Storming I want to chat with you. Click on the hyperlink and let's set up time for coffee. Lets Grab Coffee


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Works Cited:

Adams, M. (2016). Change your questions change your life: 10 powerful tools for life and work.

San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pg 7, 32.


Khilji, S. (2009). Q Storming Case, pg 1.

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