The Problem with “Drift”

Woman floating in water

How great leadership teams address their most pressing problems

One of the things I enjoy doing most is working with Teams in solving problems. There are a number of elements to problem solving (or creating solutions) and one of the techniques we use is to appreciate the problem, to explore its nature and make sure we are focusing on the real issues.  This avoids us drifting to solutions that appear to address the issue but in fact do little to engage with root cause.

The concept of  “drift” was used recently by Dr James Woodall of Leeds Beckett University in his excellent blog “Lifestyle drift is killing health promotion” in which he sets out an argument that:  ‘lifestyle drift’ is the design of policy that accepts that improving the health of individuals and communities is about tackling social determinants of health (education, housing, poverty, educational access) but only to revert back to addressing lifestyle issues, like smoking, drinking, exercise.  The policy has the right intention, but operationally it becomes difficult to execute…..

So while we may set out with good intent it is all to easy to drift towards expedient, assumptive or populist approaches to solving our most pressing problems, and this may also be true for problems within businesses and organisations.

On a recent team day I facilitated, we successfully managed to avoid such drift when a question – “how do we collect data on service users?” – was examined.  Simply put, it was difficult for the team to know what sort of queries service users posed, how often they got in touch and how to identify correlations, relationships and dependencies between the myriad of issues their staff had to resolve.

This could easily drift toward discussions of a technical or process driven nature (how do we collect data?) but through patient probing, questioning the nature of the problem and allowing freedom of expression, the conversation turned to examining service users’ experience and framing the problem in deeper and more meaningful ways.  This further encouraged some challenging conversations about redefining aspects of the service, individual roles and how to create the right experience for those service users.

On this occasion we avoided “drift” and steered the problem towards a better outcome, one that put the service user at the centre of the problem.  You can avoid it too by:

  1. Defining your problem with care and insight and invite different perspectives
  2. Avoiding generic labels  such as “we have a problem with communication”. Say what you really mean.
  3. Exploring the problem before you try to solve it – make sure the problem is the problem

Contact for a complimentary ‘worksheet on this topic “Defining the Problem”.

Questions for Leaders:

  • How are problems framed in you organisation?
  • Who is involved in framing the problem?
  • What will you do to ensure you don’t drift to what is not the problem?
Posted by John Drysdale
4th March 2016
John's Blog


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University Contract extended for 2 Years

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We would like to thank People Development and everyone at Leeds Beckett for making it a great place to work.


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