How to Solve Problems in a One-on-One: Part II

Problem-Solving Guide Part 2

You already had the feeling that something was wrong for the last two weeks but you decided to wait for the next One-on-One to describe your feeling. Fortunately, your team member addresses the topic proactively already right at the beginning of your session:

Employee: “I don’t think that I can learn a lot on the team anymore, and I am not sure how to continue.”

You: “Thank you very much for your openness.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean?”


The Explore stage is meant to draw a rough picture of all actors and circumstances that play a relevant role. When does the problem occur? Are other people involved? What are the circumstances that caused the problem? In this stage, it is not relevant to understand all relationships fully; you just want to screen the perimeter.

Especially at the beginning, when the information is sparse, it is possible to get stuck or lost because you are already trying to find a solution for a problem you do not fully understand. A systematic approach helps you to keep the information flowing. Usually, I start with questions around several core topics before I dig deeper:

  • When: Since when? For how long? When did it end?
  • Who: Who is involved? Does the problem exist within and/or between the team? Am I  or other leads involved?
  • Where: In which situations does the problem occur? At work? At home? In a meeting?
  • Why: What is the underlying motivation? What would happen if the problem got solved immediately?
  • How/What: How does it make you feel? What does it mean to you?

Employee: “Sure, well, I do not know. When I started, I was so enthusiastic and I really enjoyed the work….I really like the team, but I realized that I didn’t learn anything new in the past months. I have been doing the same tasks since I started.”

You: “Are there specific situations in which this occurs?”
[Ask specifying questions that cannot be answered just by “yes” or “no”: Use “Is there a specific situation?” rather than “Are you feeling like this all the time?”]

Employee: “Not really.”

You: “Can you tell me when it started? Is this going on for days, weeks, or months?” [Not getting any new information; let’s try another approach]

Employee: “It started two weeks ago.”

You: “This sounds like a very concrete time point. Was there a specific situation that started it?” [Where]

Employee: “Actually, that’s a good question. It started with the promotion of a friend of mine in another team.”

You: “You must have been happy for her to see her getting promoted.
How is this event connected to your conclusion that you do not learn anymore?” [Not sure how to connect these two points, so I address this topic directly]

Employee: “I am not sure. This is very difficult to explain. I am just feeling bored and pressured at the same time.”

[We are looping back where we came from. The cause of the problem seems not to be 100% clear to my employee. Open questions seem not to work. Let’s try if we can find an example situation to work with]


>> Proceed to Part III: Specify

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