Welcome to our discussion of small business issues.

In interviewing many people over the years about what one problem stands out in their mind as the most difficult to solve, it is the situation of being given another thing to tackle and resolve when your plate is already full of things to handle, so you might need to pass off the newest problem to someone else.

The difficulty in small and family businesses is that there may NOT be another person available to whom to hand the problem.

Typically, there are two people who share the tougher, bigger problems so some discussion of what is happening is shared with another person to get their insight and assistance in dealing with a new issue to resolve.  That process takes the time of two people right away, certainly at least one person who is waiting for the other person to check in to what is going on and adding their knowledge and skills to resolve the issue.

In a small or family business, there are seldom more than another two or three people who can be available to deal with a new conundrum.  They are usually already dealing with their usual responsibility and at most can describe the new thing that needs attention.

So, the primary issue is: to whom should I give the new problem to be resolved?

But there are other issues besides availability:

  • Do I really understand the type and complexity of the problem so I can give it to someone without spending my time trying to figure out if it is a routine problem, an immediate problem, a problem that the future of the company will not be adversely affected if it is not solved now and correctly, or one that can be postponed?
  • Should I ask more questions about the problem to really understand it?
  • What is the experience of the person to whom I am referring it to in solving similar problems?
  • Do they feel confident in handling something like the new problem?
  • Do you feel confident in handing the new problem off to them?
  • Can they do it by themselves?
  • Will they need help?
  • What kind of help might they need?
  • When are they going to interrupt you if they need help?
  • If you cannot help them, who else in the organization might be better than yourself?
  • Is this a routine problem that should be referred to a subordinate or colleague?
  • Is it solvable now or will it become a bigger problem if it is not handled now?
  • Is this a technical problem that will require outside help?
  • Can the person I am prepared to refer the problem to be aware of all the possible issues that I know myself or will they need my help to decide how the problem is to be tackled and resolved?
  • Is it an appropriate problem to refer to them so they will be able to make an effective choice of the person besides me to refer it to, if they cannot resolve it?
  • Is more information necessary to make a choice of the person to refer it to?
  • Can I get all of these questions resolved in the ten seconds I have available to make the referral to the person I am going to refer it to?
  • If not, which ones will I think about and which questions will I not consider in making the referral?

And if you are a top dog in your organization there is another important issue:

If the person to whom I am about to refer it cannot solve it, what must be done eventually to
give them the skills to learn how to resolve it?

If this is your situation when another problem comes to your attention, there is a solution:

That solution is to take the effort to make all your people into a team.

A team is a group of people whom you know so well that you know instantly the person to whom the new problem should be referred to.  Having team members means you know the ability of everyone you have around you and they also know the abilities of everyone in your business so they can know immediately who has the skills to resolve a new problem.

Creating a fully functional team does not happen overnight.  The business leader needs to refer problems to people s/he knows well enough to know what they can and cannot handle.   And

Everyone else in the business knows the skills of everyone else

So they can pass off a problem to the person who can handle it

Not just adequately but thoroughly and correctly

Think of a baseball team.  When they get the ball, they know immediately what to do with it to get someone out.  With the ball a player does not ask themselves: OK what do I do now.  They do it.  Because they know all the other players, where they are, and what will happen when another player has the ball.  Knowledge and time are of the essence.  The ball is like a problem, you do not want to keep it for a long time.  So throw it to someone else to fix the situation.

If kids can play ball, should it be so in your business too, especially in a small business?  You bet.  You only have so many players and every one of them should know exactly what every other one can and should do.

That is how a small business grows: by knowing what to do and who should do it so when it needs to be done, time and skills make the difference so the time can be saved and the money can be made, not frittered away and lost.