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


New Projects for Summer/Autumn 2018

It has been a really rewarding couple of weeks here at No Guru with new work and wonderful new clients added to our portfolio.

This week we met with the Senior Team at Irwell Valley Homes who have commissioned a project in support of their new brand. (more…)

No Guru now working with University of Huddersfield

Quarter 1 has started off with brilliant news, a newly commissioned programme of delivery for the University of Huddersfield to deliver ‘Strategic Thinking in Higher Education’ as part of an ambitious programme of development for Senior Managers. This leads to a recognised qualification from the Chartered Management Institute.  Head of Staff Development, Daniel Benton explains (more…)

Coaching for Results: Event with Professional Liverpool

We are delighted to be partnering with Professional Liverpool to deliver a FREE seminar on Monday 5th March (3pm to 5pm).

This explores the role of Coaching (and Mentoring) in helping staff deliver business results.  The session will be run by John Drysdale and will be a chance to find out how you can coach more effectively and perhaps consider a role in Coaching and Mentoring through our ILM Programmes.

To reserve your place click here. (more…)


John's Blog

The Immortal Memory: Robert Burns

Address to The Liverpool Athenaeum  2nd February 2018

I was delighted to be asked by club President Sir David Maddison to deliver The Immortal Memory at The Athenaeum Burns evening which I attended with my wife Fiona. This is a huge honour for any Scot and I hope I did it justice.  Burns provides such a rich tapestry I found it a real challenge to be succint and speak in a way that would connect with the audience – I chose to set Burns against the universal themes we recognise today and in the challenges we face in uncertain times.  I hope you enjoy it.   JD


The Immortal Memory – Robert Burns 1759-1796

The Athenaeum 2nd Feb 2018

President, ladies and gentlemen, fellow proprietors and distinguished guests.  I am honoured to propose the Immortal Memory this evening.

To one Robert Burns who lived between 1759 and 1796.


Image Triage – be careful what you post

How to avoid public ‘shaming’

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Ronson highlights the case of Justine Sacco (a director of corporate communications) who, before boarding an 11-hour flight from Heathrow to Cape Town, Tweeted to her 170 followers what she thought was a series of lighthearted, acerbic comments about her journey. (more…)

Across the great divide

Reworking of an earlier blog of mine, marking the 50th Anniversaries of the deaths of Martin Luther King (4/4/68) and Robert F Kennedy (6/6/68)

Let’s be kinder to each other 

There is a striking memorial in a park in Indianapolis.  It marks the spot where, in April 1968, Robert Kennedy told a waiting crowd that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed, before speaking from the heart and his own personal experience, that violence is never an answer to our grievances.  His calming words quelled the rioting that other cities endured in the days after Dr King’s death and, arguably, saved some lives that night.


The memorial itself is an arresting work of art.  (more…)