Written by Fred Fuges, FEI Account Manager

An imaginary hospital emergency room trauma team has just had a difficult response to a serious vehicular accident involving a truck and a school bus. Twelve patients, including some children, were brought in by ambulance presenting with various injuries, two of which were life-threatening. The staff was overwhelmed by curious hospital visitors, worried parents and the press—including helicopters flying above—as well as inquisitive hospital staff from other departments. While getting increased medical and nursing staff proved challenging, all clinical needs were met in a timely manner. There were no fatalities, but some patients, including a few of the school children, were transferred to the intensive care unit.

On the day after this event, the leader of the trauma team, an experienced registered nurse named Harriet, is about to start a meeting. The team is expecting to be criticized by their leader for the somewhat chaotic response. Instead, she starts the meeting with, “Okay, let’s look at what went right.”

The team is thrown off, expecting to have had a “blame and be-blamed” session, but are able to review and note the positives in the response, even congratulating each other for special efforts. When team members begin to bring up the problems that occurred, Harriet redirects them back to the things they did right and refers to problems as opportunities.

After a while Harriet asks, “If a miracle happened overnight, and we were now completely prepared to have it go the way we would have liked, how would we know such a miracle had occurred?” This question generates animated discussion and descriptions of the team’s ideal version of a response.

She then asks the team to come back to the present state of preparedness, and brainstorm a few “best next steps” on the path to their miraculous ideal. The discussion focuses on taking advantage of the strengths of the team and identifies other resources that are or can be made available to help get to the best next steps.

Harriet says these steps should be small and within the control of the person or people taking them. For example, the team might see the need to move the registration desk to a more private area and enlist the maintenance department to assist, or ask for administration to secure the area and prevent intrusion by well-meaning staff or news media. One practitioner of solution-focused management, Mona Hojab, calls these best next steps “Trojan Mice”—small, almost unseen changes that add up to a big difference over time.

Mark McKergow and his colleague Paul Z. Jackson, both experts on solution-focused management, identified S.I.M.P.L.E principles for a solution-focused manager like Harriet to use:

  • Solutions, not problems: Focus away from the negative approaches we find safe and comfortable
  • Inbetween: Looking at the systems, not the individual
  • Make use of what’s there: Identifying and focusing on strengths and assets sometimes hidden in a problem-focused environment
  • Possibilities: Imagining the miracle of the ideal response
  • Language: Simply said
  • Every case is different: Being wary of ill-fitting management theory

Harriet was able to use a S.I.M.P.L.E approach to grow her team’s ability to manage trauma scenarios while reframing previous problems in intuitive, constructive ways.

In your work as a manager and leader, consider trying solution-focused management when dealing with immediate or systematic issues in your organization. You may find you have discovered a new tool worth adding to your toolbox.