Episode 1 – The Man in the Middle: A Solution Focused Feuilleton

Introduction

In fourteen exciting episodes, we present a true case study: real people, real business, real problems and exciting interventions. Most likely you will recognize situations that you have also experienced in your own company.

We have chosen to let the story prevail over the explanation of solution-focused thinking and working. We intersperse the story with technical paragraphs (in italic) that explain the solution focused interventions. For in-depth learning, you can click on the links in the text that will lead you to the theoretical explanations of the solution focused key notions.

This story comes straight from life and illustrates all the conversational techniques covered in the previous chapters. Most likely you will recognize situations that you have also experienced in your own company.

The story is about an average manager — not a famous individual or a famous company, not a superman educated in an exclusive business school. It is about somebody like you and me. You will meet his boss, his CEO and a solution focused coach. It is a case about a complex corporate project. It is an exciting case because at every turn it can end catastrophically for those involved, their careers and for the further development of the company.

While reading, you will have your own ideas on how you would have handled the problems that come up. As the events unfold, you will notice many points in the story where it could have gone wrong.

As the story unravels, you will be surprised and amazed by the power of words.

There we go. Have fun!

Louis

Episode 1: 

Background

Peter is a fifty-one-year-old petrochemical engineer. Having had a successful career in various other companies, Peter was hired by Solteam. and has been working with them for fifteen years. He is now vice-president of operations and he has the final word on a large number of projects. Peter’s team consists of about fifty employees. The projects he manages are highly technical and often require additional help from external subcontractors. As a results-driven manager, like most managers, two major concerns are always on his mind: being on time and within budget. Although he likes working with people, Peter has little interest in the organizational and relational side of working on a project.

Peter, a fifty-one-year-old petrochemical engineer.

As an engineer, he sees the dynamics of human relations as a necessary evil. In fact, he calls it “too much politics and window dressing.” He does, however, enjoy the general spirit of cooperation within his team and department.

Top management has expectations of Peter that are slightly higher than his own. “Stretching it to the limit’ is the style of the house. Peter in turn demands the same effort and results from his employees and from the external contractors. Typically, his project budgets are very finely cut and the time limits are always a bit too tight. The external contractors, who naturally also work for other companies, always try to stretch the limits of the contracts. After all, that is how the game is played.

Peter’s team is not immune to the internal power struggles that often develop in such high-pressure environments. Up until now Peter has always been able to control these power struggles. As a veteran, Peter knows the rules of the game within Solteam. he has used those rules himself to move up to his current position.

For Peter, his home is a place free of tension and that is just how he wants it to be. He is happily married with two adolescent sons and a beautiful house in a residential neighborhood not far from the factory. He lives a healthy life, jogging and playing bridge with his wife and friends on Thursday nights. Except for the normal stresses that everyone encounters in a top management position, Peter has been enjoying a relatively peaceful life, until …

Prelude

Last year, Solteam. merged with another company. Many of Peter’s direct employees left, some voluntarily and some not. Peter’s team underwent a major change — a significant part of his team is new. The style of the old company had been one of constant consultation and teamwork, of loyalty among employees and a sense of being at the service of the company. But with the new merger things have changed, job certainty has gone and so has the sense of teamwork. 

(to be continued)

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‘The Man in the middle’ is an excerpt from the book ‘The Solution Tango’ (and ‘Solution Focused Coaching’ e-book) by Louis Cauffman. This book presents a new approach to conquering the numerous challenges, problems, and failures that managers encounter at work, many of which are people-related. An important lesson identified in the book is that a manager must act as both the leader who provides direction for a team or company and as the coach who enables others to make the most of their skills, enabling the individual and the organization to succeed. A seven-step framework to enhance problem-solving capabilities, examples and tips, and a survival kit for sinking managers will help managers improve their people skills and learn how to approach everyday issues from a positive perspective.

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