Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 11;   March 15, 2006: Problem-Solving Ambassadors

Problem-Solving Ambassadors

by

In dispersed teams, we often hold meetings to which we send delegations to work out issues of mutual interest. These working sessions are a mix of problem solving and negotiation. People who are masters of both are problem-solving ambassadors, and they're especially valuable to dispersed or global teams.

Suzanne surveyed the options: "Grill" (that meant burgers and fries), "Garden" (that meant salad bar), "Home" (that meant hot and boring), and "World" (today it was East Asia). She noticed that Matteo was at the salad bar, so she decided to do salad today, and headed over there with her tray.

As she reached for the lettuce tongs, Matteo nodded to her and said, "I hate salad."

Suzanne couldn't resist. "Good," she said. "More for the rest of us who hate salad."

Matteo chuckled. "So what'd you think of Lynn's idea?"

Suzanne reached for the cottage cheese spoon. "I think it might work. We have to fill in some holes, but it just might work."

"I agree," said Matteo. "She has a real gift for finding the third way."

Matteo is referring to Lynn's knack for finding a new way to look at things, to bring unity into an otherwise polarized debate. It's one of the skills of people I call Problem-Solving Ambassadors.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, painting by David Martin, 1767. Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

In the context of dispersed or global teams, we often meet face-to-face for problem-solving sessions. To manage our travel budgets, we send delegations to these meetings, usually selected for their domain knowledge and problem-solving skills.

And this is where we sometimes err. We choose people for these meetings using the same criterion — domain expertise — that we use for the face-to-face context. Although domain knowledge and problem-solving skills are important, a new skill set is required for dispersed teams — the skills of the ambassador.

Here are some tips for finding and choosing problem-solving ambassadors.

Negotiation skills and empathic skills are critical
In the dispersed environment the delegations that meet must negotiate agreements that last beyond what anyone can know for certain. Agreements must be much more than technically sound — they must support the agendas of the parties well enough to make adherence the best alternative. Problem solving alone won't cut it.
Seek balance
Problem-solving ambassadors do have problem-solving skills, and they are well versed in the subject matter of the meeting. But they need not be the most well versed people available, because we're willing to trade off some domain knowledge and problem-solving abilities for ambassadorial skill.
Look for them where they are
Seek a balance
of domain knowledge
and ambassadorial skill
Where do we find problem-solving ambassadors? Because they're relatively gregarious, they're often bored by purely technical work. We find them in technical sales support, or in customer support or customer consulting. Or maybe management.
Expect varied careers
Because they appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives, they enjoy breadth more than depth. The paths of their careers pass through many different fields.

And most important, like the Lynn that Matteo and Suzanne were talking about, problem-solving ambassadors thrill in resolving issues between constituencies — in finding the third way. Do you know a problem-solving ambassador? Go to top Top  Next issue: Dubious Dealings  Next Issue

For more about empathy and the uses of empathy, see "The Uses of Empathy," Point Lookout for January 4, 2006.

Ambassadors must be diplomats, and one of the most important skills of diplomacy is a mastery of indirectness. See "Using Indirectness at Work," Point Lookout for December 6, 2006, for more.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHQpYwsaUgqSGiMdNner@ChacudBJnMxMvmXXbqIroCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Pulling at each otherWhen You Think They've Made Up Their Minds
In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
Jack-in-the-boxNo Surprises
If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's The Execution of Emperor MaximilianHave a Program, Not Just an Agenda
In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnnoyance to Asset
Unsolicited contributions to the work of one element of a large organization, by people from another, are often annoying to the recipients. Sometimes the contributors then feel rebuffed, insulted, or frustrated. Toxic conflict can follow. We probably can't halt the flow of contributions, but we can convert it from a liability to a valuable asset.
Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., (right) bids farewell to Gen. Bernard Montgomery (left) at the Palermo airportTactics for Asking for Volunteers: II
When we seek volunteers for specific, time-limited tasks, a common approach is just to ask the entire team at a meeting or teleconference. It's simple, but it carries risks. There are alternatives.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Problem Solving and Creativity and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenpCUQSNYSzZsKIzQqner@ChaclxmezDMhRvtZCKtfoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.