Dig a little deeper

Becca Timmins
Becca Timmins

In this post, I consider some of the tools that we can use to dig deeper than the issues we see first, to solve underlying problems and have a greater impact. I then go on to consider the conditions that need to be present to enable those tools to be effective.

If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

Albert Einstein

You have probably at some time, experienced the difference that comes from resolving something big. Perhaps stumbling across a change that, when we make it, brings huge benefits that we hadn’t forseen. We’ve solved what in this blog Brett Davidson refers to as a “Domino Issue”. It feels amazing.

Most of the time though, we tend to fix the issue that presents itself. Perhaps something goes wrong, and we tweak a process to stop it happening again. Or someone makes a mistake and so we spend a bit of time on some training to make sure they don’t do it again.

Maybe we see them as quick wins. I’ve come to refer to them as sticking plasters!

What I’ve learned (the hard way!) over the last 10 or so years, is the difference that comes from changing that pattern. The difference it makes to dig deeper, habitually and deliberately, to find more of those Domino issues. Then to focus our energy on solving them.

So how can we find what we REALLY need to work on?

Well, luckily there are lots of tools to help. There are a couple that I have found to be particularly effective.

The fantastic book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman, introduces the IDS (Identify-Discuss-Solve) track. Very much following Einstein’s view – spend your time identifying the real issue then the solution usually becomes clear!

Then there’s the “5 Whys” technique. Here’s an article that explains it. An example of a great use of this technique might be:

Issue – I saw my client today, and information was missing from the system – it was embarrassing, and I looked stupid.

1 x Why was the information missing?

The administrator didn’t input the information.

2x Why didn’t they input that information?

Because they’re not clear on what they should be inputting and in what way.

3x Why is that?

We get information in different ways, in different formats from all of the sales team, and we just can’t work out what’s what.

4x Why is that?

Well, we agreed a simple and clear process for this last year, but none of them are following it and we don’t know what more we can do.

5x Why don’t they follow the process?

Well……….. you don’t follow the process, and you’re their team leader……. So I don’t think they see it as that important.


And that’s where it can get tricky! These are great tools that achieve great outcomes. If everyone is able to be honest!

To use these techniques effectively, we have to ask those we work with tough questions, and really want to hear the answers.

It takes courage for them, because we’re asking them to be really honest, and often tell us what they know we don’t want to hear.

And it takes courage for us too, because, well….. we might well not like what they have to say.

So, we need to make everyone feel safe enough to talk honestly, for the good of the business.

Making it safe to be honest

There is so much that we can do though, and the work that I do with Leaders and teams really focuses ways to behave with each other that creates that safe environment. Here are my top tips:

Set it up

Be clear that you want to hear the truth, even if it’s hard. It’s more important that we get it right than it is for any one of us to be right (Brené Brown). Phrases that can be useful here are things like:

“I’m listening, and I really do want to know.”

“I think you’re the person who can help me get to the root cause of this, that’s why I’m asking you, for the good of the business and the team.”

Make it equal

Think in Rounds – go around in a pre-determined order, with no-one speaking until it comes back to them in the round, or take equal turns if there are just two of you. You can set a timer for each person if some tend to talk more than others!

Reduce your power – if you are aware that you have power in a room (and if you pay people’s wages, or take their appraisals, or have any other say in how their career progresses, you absolutely do) it’s important to be aware of that.

So, contribute to a discussion by all means, but aim to present your thoughts as information to be considered rather than strong opinion. Try “I wonder if …..” rather than “I think we should…..” that sort of thing.

Oh, and try not to go first. It’s a known persuasion tactic – go first and you set the context for the rest of the discussion.

Listen well

If we can ask open questions and then really listen to the answers we begin to understand better. Simple. Questions that are contained yet open are great.

“What impact does that have?”

“Can you tell me more about how that plays out?”

“Can you help me understand …..?”

“What could improve that situation?”

Then listen to the response. And I mean REALLY listen. Making warm eye contact, listening to the words and noticing body language.

Forget any assumption that you’re going to reply to what they say. In fact, assume that you won’t – you may well need more time to process anyway. Just keep listening well.

Listen to yourself

Let’s be clear here. It is LIKELY that you will hear things you don’t like. So expect it, and notice when it happens. You might become angry, or fearful, or anxious. And that’s ok. Reacting strongly from that place probably isn’t ok, not if you want people to tell you the truth again next time!

Adrenaline has flooded your brain. That means you’re now primed for survival not thinking calmly! So buy yourself some time. Rounds really help me with this – I can often take enough deep breaths while listening to others that I’m calm again by the time it’s my turn.

But if not, buy yourself some more time! A simple “Thank you, that’s given me a lot to think about” will do.

Take the time to climb down off your high horse, or out of your “not good enough” pit (two of my personal favourite places). Then come back to the conversation later.

And finally, the golden rule……. NEVER interrupt

Our brains register interruption in the same way that they register a physical assault.


You wouldn’t condone physical violence in your team (I hope!) so why would you condone interruption.

Let people finish their thoughts, their sentences, their ideas. Give everyone that respect and the time to finish their thoughts. Read more about that here.

If you can create a safe, trusting environment, you will learn so much. You will more effectively find root causes of issues and apply your time and focus more effectively to what REALLY needs solving.

The benefits can be transformational.

If you are interested in the ways I could work with you and your team to have great conversations, improve engagement, and listen well, I would love to hear from you. Please drop me an email and we can arrange to chat over a cuppa!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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Becca Timmins

Becca is an accredited Time to Think Consultant, Coach and Facilitator. She has extensive experience coaching and developing people within a Thinking Environment framework, working with individuals and teams at all levels, primarily within financial planning businesses.
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