4 Questions for Handling Obstacles

If you have been in leadership for any length of time…or part of a project for that matter, inevitably you have run into obstacles. Sometimes they were anticipated, but often they seem to come out of nowhere. Effective leaders do not panic when this happens. Instead, they walk through a series of questions to discover not only what the obstacle is, but more importantly what the solution is for moving forward. While obstacles often can feel like an insurmountable wall, there is typically a way over, under, around, or through.

What’s broken? Before you can even consider options and solutions, it is essential to discover what is actually broken. Slow down, assess what is happening, and determine what isn’t working. Is it a lack of resources? Maybe the original timeframe for completion now seems unrealistic. Perhaps, you have the wrong people on your team, or the right people in the wrong roles? You might even discover that nothing is broken and that the obstacle is simply a natural result of your process. Gain input from others and come to an agreement with key leaders.

What’s working? Sometimes, the best way to handle an obstacle is to take a break, walk away from the project, and celebrate the accomplishments of your team. This provides the opportunity to reflect on progress, to cheer for team members, and to fill up the energy of your team members. Great leaders constantly celebrate others and cultivate sustainability through encouragement. You might be surprised to discover that upon your return from a celebration break, the obstacles no longer exist. In addition, assessing what is working might also lead to potential solutions to anything that you previously discovered was broken.

What’s confusing? There is nothing more challenging as a team member than to be commissioned to accomplish a project, yet be unsure what the actual goals of the project are. How do you aim for a target than you cannot see? It is crucial for leaders to listen to the objections or frustrations of team members, clarify the vision of the specific task, and redirect energies as needed to successfully complete objectives. Clear and concise should be foundational requirements for every leader when it comes to sharing the purpose and process for a project.

What’s missing? If you have cleared things up, celebrated the accomplishments of the team, and determined that nothing is truly broken, the final piece of the puzzle is to identify gaps. It might be that you have everything you need to accomplish steps “A” through “G”, but you then realized that you never created step “D.” Find the gaps, determine the people and resources needed to fill the gaps, and then move forward with creating the solutions required to achieve the expected results.

I have led projects with as few as 3-5 people up to entire camps with over 100 volunteers. It doesn’t typically matter how many people are involved or what the scope of the project might be. Obstacles are reality and leaders must have the tools necessary to confront the obstacles, reassess the process, and get the team moving forward again in a timely manner.

What questions am I missing that you might use to handle the obstacles you have experienced?

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