Solving People Problems

Frank Newberryin Training & Education

Whether you are a team leader, or a team member who wants to make a difference, you will find that some people problems at work are more complex than others. In this article, Trainer Frank Newberry outlines a simple, logical and powerful three-step approach to solving the more complex people problems at work.

Some people problems can be quite mundane - like personality clashes, individuals not fitting in, people not pulling their weight, others not working in a safe way.

Sometimes, the whole work team can have a problem. Team members may not be pulling together, or cliques have formed, and negativity is setting in. It might be that motivation and morale are suffering.

Sometimes we do not know that we even have a problem

The problem solving process outlined in this article was devised by Gerard Egan, (author of the best-selling book: 'The Skilled Helper') and is for these more complex problems we sometimes face with people, problems that we may have always had, problems that will not go away, or respond to our efforts to resolve them.

Sometimes we do not know that we even have a problem until we ask specific and penetrating questions of work team members.

Sometimes appearances can be deceptive. Once, as I waited for my turn to speak at a turfcare conference in Portugal, I was a little more intimidated than usual. My talk was on the topic of motivating people, and, in the twenty-four hours I had been in the country, people had been very nice to me. Everyone seemed very happy and motivated.

Our biggest problems are people problems

As the other speakers continued to give their technical talks and sales presentations, I leaned over and quietly whispered my predicament to a Portuguese golf course manager sitting near me. I quietly expressed my concern that I did not think there were any people problems in Portugal. His reply? 'Are you kidding? Our biggest problems are people problems!'.

Gerard Egan has put together a simple but powerful three-step problem solving process, which can be as effective in one-to-one meetings with individuals as it can be with moving an underperforming team (or organisation) forward.

Watching the problem unfold but doing nothing about it

Egan breaks his process down into three steps. I will break down each of the steps into three more logical parts (making nine in all) showing the actions you can take to solve a priority problem.

Essentially, these are questions that you will ask the people experiencing the problem, those causing the problem, and those who are just watching the problem unfold but doing nothing about it.

The three steps with their accompanying questions are:

(1) the current situation (not good),

(2) the preferred scenario (better), and

(3) action strategies (to move the problem from 1 to 2 above)

Current Situation

In this first diagnostic step there are three headings (in capitals), each with a 'prompt' question for you to ask the individual, the team or representatives of the organisation.


Question: What are the issues and concerns you have?


Question: What are the real problems in there?


Question: Which ones of these can you work on?

Preferred Scenario

After probing for facts and evidence as much as you reasonably can, it is time to move on to the second step: The Preferred Scenario.


Question: What would it look like if it were better?


Question: Out of that, what can you realistically achieve?


Questions: So, what's in it for you and are you sure you want to do this?

Action Strategies

After probing to establish the viability of the preferred scenario and testing the level of problem ownership* it is time to move onto the third and final step: Action Strategies.


Question: So what are the different ways you might do this?


Questions: Out of those different ways, what do you think will work, and what are you going to do first?


Questions: What's going to help you do this and what will get in the way?

N.B. These questions are only potential prompts to help you get started. Each answer will need probing to get the data that will move the individual, team or organisation onto the following step.

*At this point, problem ownership is very important. If people can accept at least some of the responsibility, if people will acknowledge that they are accountable to some extent, then we have ownership and engagement.

If no one wants to own the problem then we would need to work first on getting people to see the problem as an opportunity to make things better. They are, in reality, helping to solve a problem, rather than be blamed or punished for it.

Just another part of everyone's work life

As the problem solving work starts to grow, you might have a number of short meetings - to accommodate people's work commitments - rather than one long meeting that disrupts their working day. Shorter and more regular meetings would help normalise the activity, suggesting that it is a just another part of everyone's work life.

So, whether you are a team leader, or a team member who wants to make a difference, I wish you good luck with getting to the bottom of what is wrong, when it is wrong, and taking effective action to solve people problems at work.

© 2021 Frank Newberry

If you or your people would benefit from some great team training or a supervisor seminar, Frank's bespoke courses are available through Grounds Training. Visit or call 01865 509 510 for more information.