Managing a Dilemma

In this problem type, the essential challenge is creating a new mindset among the players. Rather than pursuing different (and apparently conflicting) goals, they all need to become advocates for a single dilemma. New relationships allow for richer learning and continuous exploration of the unavoidable tension that is the hallmark of a Dilemma.

Solution Outline
  • Tension between the goals is no longer structurally reinforced
  • People think in terms of "one dilemma" instead of "two goals"
  • Relationships of greater respect and understanding are established
  • An attitude and practice of continual experimentation is installed
  • People are open to the shifting nature of "success"; there are no final solutions.

How To Get There
  • Challenge advocates to become partners
  • Understand how goals are linked
  • Build new relationships to replace conflict with collaboration
  • Capture the process; it's even more important than the outcome
  • Design a process for experimentation and learning
  • Define early warning signs of imbalance

Dilemmas in organizations are commonly split across departments; we often believe that structured competition will provoke the best ideas. In Dilemmas, we need radical collaboration rather than robust competition. It is not simply an agreement to "be nice"; it has to have a structured process for experimentation, for learning, and for continual monitoring the needed mix across the horns of the dilemma.

Part of the approach to any dilemma is cultivating a sense of shared destiny. People who have been dedicated to a single goal have to be sensitive to the countervailing goal and to the people who pursue it. So one key outcome is a new attitude of respect and concern for people who previous where stereotyped and disregarded.

Unlike other problem types,where the method is unimportant or expendable, in a dilemma the method for reaching a "solution" is perhaps the most important product. Since the dilemma will persist, having a shared and smooth process for exploring new options is a critical outcome.

Part of this process should include a mechanism for learning from experience. Project post mortems, customer feedback tools, knowledge management platforms, or continuous process improvement are all tools for learning from each iteration.

Sometimes a dilemma is totally internal to a single person. We all struggle with "time alone" vs. "time in relationship". We have to balance "career efforts" with "time with the family". We toy with "developing our skills" rather than "performing what we do well".

Marital relationships are also riddled with dilemmas:

  • Time together /\ Time alone
  • Romantic fantasy /\ Emotional honesty
  • Building a comfortable and predictable relationship /\ Creating a challenging and exciting relationship

Hopefully husband and wife do not view each other in the same way Finance might view Project Managers! But they are still vulnerable to the tension created by not recognizing the dilemmas they are managing. In fact, this view of relationships gives us a way to explain why the early romantic/sexual energy in a new relationship can easily prove inadequate as the relationship picks up more depth and complexity. It is easier to pursue a single goal; managing a dilemma requires a richer set of intellectual and social skills.