Too slow

As an Action Learning Coach how would you handle the following situation:

You are coaching a leadership development program with a group of senior engineers…One of them is a Six Sigma Black Belt with years of experience in problem solving methods.  During the middle of your second meeting to frame the problem, the Black Belt notes that it is taking way too long to come to agreement on the problem.  Some of the Type A members of the group nod their heads in agreement.  What do you do?

9 thoughts on “Too slow

  1. Fred N.

    Hopefully, I would have discussed the action learning methodology up front, emphasizing the importance of taking the necessary time to clarify the problem before identifying solutions. I have called the sometimes slow progress during the clarification phase the “groan zone” where people get impatient to move to solution identification. This seems to stick with people so they know it when they encounter it for real.

    In this scenario, I would acknowledge those who feel like progress is slow, and ask some key questions like “What would we gain by moving more quickly through this phase? What are some possible drawbacks? How can we keep up our energy levels during this phase?” The key here is to recognize that people are tired and perhaps frustrated, and to provide encouragement and options to work through the “groan zone” so that the action learning process can still be followed.

  2. Cleo Wolff

    I would intervene just after his comment and ask: What is the impact to come to solutions before to get a consensus of what is the problem? What can we do better in order to get the consensus? How can we be sure everyone is understanding the same problem?

  3. jeffo

    Depending on the team’s responses, I will ask the following questions to help them reflect on what they are seeking to achieve.

    1. I will ask the team if it is important to agree on what the problem really is?
    2. Do you agree that we are taking too long to arrive at agreement? Yes or No?
    3. Why do you think we are taking so long?
    4. What can we do about this?
    5. What does the team want to do moving forward?

  4. Madelaine

    As the Action Learning coach, I would intervene at that point and say, “I am noticing that some team members are feeling frustrated that the team has not yet gained agreement on the problem. Are others noticing this? Do we have agreement on the problem? Yes or No?”. If anyone says ‘no’, then I would ask “What is the impact of moving to solution when the problem has not yet been clearly defined?”

    I might also refer to the diamond diagram for the action learning process and ask the team where they think we are in the process. Then ask “Does everyone agree that it’s important to have agreement on the problem before moving on?” Assuming they all say ‘yes’, I’d then say, “Let’s continue. Who has the next question?”

    I might also ask the team “How are we doing as a team? What are we doing well? What can we do better?”

  5. Mark Relova

    As a coach, I would call this behavior and make the team reflect. “Team, what is happening as regards our progress to reach a solution? I am noticing that some members seem frustrated. What is the impact of going straight to the solution without having a consensus on the problem? What might happen to the solution we will propose? What are we realizing here? What are we learning about our approach to problem solving? What can we do differently to improve our action learning session?”

  6. George

    1. I would ask: “Team, are you agreed on what the problem is; yes, no or maybe?” and go around the room to get their responses.
    2. Given that they still do not have consensus on the problem, the majority response will typically be “no”, and I will then ask: “Why is it important to spend the time on defining the problem?”
    3. if the response is that it gets the team to reflect on the value of getting the real problem defined and that it is worth spending the time on it, then all good, and I would ask: “Who has the next question?”
    3. However, it is possible that I get a confrontational response from the black belt (for example: “I think we have spent enough time on this, and it is pretty ridiculous that we can’t yet start working on the solution”). If so I would ask “Team, what is the impact on the session if we do not spend the time to get agreement on what the real problem is?”
    4. Hopefully this gets the team back on track. But the black belt may continue with an obstructive approach such as “I don’t think it aids the outcome of the session to be wasting time and not getting actions”.
    5. If the above happens, I would ask the team “What is the impact on the team if we have one person dominating the agenda in terms of the time being spent on getting to the real problem?”
    6. Hopefully this will get other in the team to “step up” and return to the problem definition, but if not, I would come in with another question such as “How do you feel we are doing as a team?” and then follow up with “What can we do better in this regard?”, and then “How would you like to progress with this matter as a team?” or “Who has the next question?” – depending on the response/s.

  7. Jbethke

    I first wait and see how the group responds. This could be a great learning moment for the group without the Action Learning coach intervening. However, if I did feel it would benefit the learning of the group, or if they directed a question at me, i would intervene. I would start by asking “What makes Action Learning different than other approaches to problem solving?” I would use this as an opportunity (if no one came forward with it) to remind the group of the two explicit outcomes associated with an AL session. I would also end with “How would the group like to proceed?”

  8. DrBea Post author

    Fantastic answers! I too would go to the simplicity of – Why is it important that we have consensus on the problem before moving to solution? What would help us get to consensus?

    If the ‘black belt’ continued to push their agenda I would ask the team my line of questioning would be:
    How are we doing checking with other team members before trying to steer the agenda?
    Why is it important that we respect the needs of all team members in terms of the time necessary to come to consensus?
    How will we, as a team, work together as a team in terms of time management?

    Happy Coaching


    As a coach,I lead the team to remind the diamond diagram for the action learning process and ask the team where they think we are in the process. Then, I ask to the team:Does everyone agree that it’s important to agree on the problem at first?”

Leave a Reply