Answering requests can become one of the most time-consuming tasks leaders have. Time intensive in the sense of total time spent.
When requests are put forward, the person is looking for help. It almost always looks easier than it is, as people find it hard to formulate a proper request.
The request they come up with can be impulsive, which means that it might not have been completely thought through. In other cases, it might be too complicated for the person to state the real request they have.
When I was leading operations for an IT service the latter happened frequently. People had heard of the service and shared what they had concluded they would need from it. They were describing the solution they thought was the best fit. It rarely was. In their case, the simple reason was, that they didn’t know enough about our service to be able to imagine the solution that would work best for them.
Had we always agreed to their request as is, the service they would have experienced wouldn’t have been as effective and fast, as the one we wanted to provide.
My routine then was to explore their situation with them. What we needed to understand, was their reality. It meant to have an idea of the context within which they wanted to use our service and what their situation looked like.
Once we had an understanding of their reality we could move on and explore the problem linked to the request. Here we had to look at the situation they wanted to create for themselves and with our service. Understanding the difference between the desired situation and the existing situation gave us further insights into what they were looking for. That’s the space where we gained an understanding of the problem they needed to address. It often differed from their initial request.
Our next step was to explore the available options. Which meant to see who could do what towards solving the problem but also how we could make our service available to them. Using that knowledge we could discuss the options and decide on the one that would fit best.
The last step in this work was to agree to establish the connection and contribute our respective commitments to getting it done.
The same exploration is valid for any request. Where there might be some nuances, is within the options as they can also be understood as the needs the person has.
It is missing one step or being too fast on one or the other step that expands the time needed for such a request. It can for example lead to the request being misunderstood or not fully understood by all those involved. It can also invite a shift in responsibility, where the leader ends up doing the task himself, instead of enabling the team member. Or, it can lead to the person putting the request forward being frustrated and doing whatever seems fit. In all these cases there is a high probability, that the work done will be different from the one needed.
The scheme of exploring the existing reality, the problem, and the existing options serves in every relationship. Also the one with oneself.