Managing monkeys: The key to effective problem solving


Have you ever felt like things would not get done if it wasn’t for you? The truth is, there are times when our expertise is needed. But many times we take on other people's jobs and challenges instead of choosing to train them or equip them in problem solving on their own.

Karen called my office recently describing the challenges of her growing business.

“I’ve been working 7 days a week for the past 6 months. Everything seems to fall on me if it is going to be done correctly.“

As Karen began to describe her dilemma, she talked about situations in which her staff would come to her with production, human resources or other business related issues. Since she started her small business a few years back, she has grown accustomed to taking on the challenges and helping employees. Now that the business is growing the assumed workload has become overwhelming.

Karen’s not alone in her management style. I’ve been guilty of assuming other people's problems with great intentions of helping them. But what often ends up happening is their problem becomes my problem and I take the responsibilty of problem solving out of their control. We call this Monkey-on-the-Back Management: an employee comes into a meeting with a monkey on their back and leaves with the monkey on your back.

Think about the last time an employee walked into your office with a problem, or monkey on their back. The monkey may have been an issue with IT, HR, accounting, or a difficult vendor. How did you respond?

Help your employees develop problem solving skills

The goal is to equip your team to take care of the problem. Have them come up with solutions. Don’t let them dump the problem on you. Don’t let them leave their monkey in your office!

In the book The One Minute Manager, authors Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson provide some practical ideas on keeping the monkeys out of your office. The book presents several studies in medicine and behavioral sciences that clearly explain how equipping others is more effective for your time management than solving their problems.

Next time an employee comes to you with an issue, take a minute to determine if they are capable and equipped to solve the problem. If they are, start by asking questions that help them talk through the problem. Often times when they process the problem out loud, they will start to offer potential solutions out loud as well. This provides you the opportunity to guide and train them in addressing the issue without taking over. Sharpening their problem solving skills is not only beneficial for you in the long-run but it allows an opportunity for the employee to understand and find encouragement in the value that they bring to the team.

Unless you are a zoo keeper, keep the monkey’s out!

[message_box title="Need help managing monkeys?" color="gray"] Our business coaching services can help you identify ways to empower your employees and keep you doing the work that only you can do! Give me a call at (913) 254-7300 or email me at [/message_box]