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Ankur Sheel
Ankur Sheel

Posted on • Originally published at on

"Don't come with a problem without a solution" is harmful

I have been told by a few managers that the fact that I bring problems without any solutions annoys them. They would rather have people bring solutions along with the problems. Although they probably mean well, I feel that this approach does more harm than good.

Without even realising it, what they have said is

Of all the problems you find, I only want to know about the ones you can solve

Why would someone not have a solution?

Consider that a direct report of this manager identifies an issue but they don’t bring it up because

  • it is too complex for them and they don’t know where to start.
  • they do not have the authority to solve the problem.
  • they are not good at strategic or tactical thinking.
  • they have not had the time to think through possible solutions and the solutions never become clear to them.

Why is this a problem?

No matter what the reason, in the short term the manager has missed an opportunity for improvement and possibly a chance to prevent a problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis.

Over a period of time, this can have more harmful and far-reaching impacts

  • It can cause employees to shut down in fear.
  • Put stress on people to find the right solution to a problem before speaking up.
  • Put stress on people to figure out if a problem is big enough or not.
  • Prevent employees from asking for help.
  • Using a sub-optimal solution.

But the worst is that it results in a low trust relationship.

Why managers might think this approach is a good idea?

Now, it may be argued that managers do this to cultivate a sense of ownership and to discourage complainers. I think there are better ways to achieve both without having to resort to this approach.

To cultivate a sense of ownership, let the person bringing the problem own it assuming that they have been given the tools, authority etc to solve it.

I don’t think we should discourage the complainers. Yes, most of the problems they bring will be trivial but you will find that rare gem in all the problems which will make it worth it. If you have a chronic whiner who complains even about things that are fine, you might just have to let that person go.


What are your thoughts on the approach “Don’t come with a problem without a solution”? Do you think its harmful or beneficial?

Top comments (4)

hunterpp profile image
Hunter Peress

Talk to a coworker, find a solution, don't implement it, then go to manager. This will break the circle of hell you currently seem to be in ;-)

ankursheel profile image
Ankur Sheel

Hey Hunter,

I think you might have missed the point of the article. :). So let us take a hypothetical example here.

Let's say that you are on a team with bad morale which is going to cause retention issues. But, nobody is telling management (because they don't have a solution) so they are not aware of it and probably won't be till people start leaving.

Do you think you will have the context to figure out the solution to the problem? After all there it could be any or all of these reasons

  • maybe the manager is the cause.
  • maybe its because they don't celebrate wins.
  • it could just be that they feel they are not compensated fairly.
  • maybe it's because of overwork and stress.

How do you figure out the potential solution? Even though you or coworkers might not have a solution for it, that does not mean that it's not a problem that should be addressed.

As a leader, I would prefer to hear the problem early and come up with a solution as a team rather than putting the burden on 1 person.

hunterpp profile image
Hunter Peress

Most morale and retention issues go all the way to the top. The CEO sets corporate culture. Talk about it with more people and be sure you are approaching in a logical manner.

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ankursheel profile image
Ankur Sheel

I agree that the CEO sets the culture. But, that's the whole point of the article. If the CEO (and hence the rest of the leadership) says "Don't come with a problem without a solution" it permeates the culture and you cant talk to other people because you don't have a solution.