What does it mean to be solution focussed?

Solution focussed is something everyone aspires to be, right? After all, who wouldn’t be interested in solutions? It may seem obvious at face value but solution focussed does have a particular meaning and implies a distinctive practice that might not be exactly what you expect. As an approach I think it has lots of potential to help with organisational change and improvement. And, as I describe myself as a solution focussed practitioner, so I think it’s worth setting down something about what it means.

Let me start by saying that I’m not an expert and there are many others who are much more experienced. I’ve been interested in the approach for a couple of years and have experimented with some of the techniques. I’ve also had some training with the excellent BRIEF organisation but I’m very much still learning. Having been involved with a number of different approaches to organisational change over the years, however, this approach feels right to me.

By the way, solution focussed approaches were originally developed by therapists in the US in the 1970s and have many similarities with other asset based approaches such as appreciative inquiry. It will already be familiar to many people working in therapeutic roles in health, education and social services for example. More recently it has been applied to organisational challenges — hence my interest (Mark Mckergow has written a few useful books on this topic).

This, then, is my take on the approach.


Here are some of the ideas that underpin solution focussed practice.

  1. Progress is always possible because organisations are made of human interactions, language and stories. This means that people, through their own behaviours, can influence social change.
  2. The act of describing a preferred future in detail can help to make that future a reality.
  3. Change is something you do — not something you get others to do.
  4. Because your reality is complex, considering the perspetives of others can help you to construct your preferred future.
  5. It’s possible to make progress towards a preferred future without dealing with perceived problems — in fact, focussing on problems can make it harder — at best this wastes time and at worst draws people down into a negative spiral.
  6. As everyone’s context is unique, discovering ‘what works’ to achieve a goal starts with ‘what works already, for me, in my circumstances’. General theories and ‘best practice’ are of limited use.
  7. You are the expert in your own world. Sometimes you might not realise that you have the solutions but the right questions might help you to find them.
  8. Change is continuous and unpredictable — sustainable change, therefore, comes through small steps, feedback and reflection.

Of course people don’t get to choose their circumstances. Social, cultural and organisational contexts can be extremely challenging. Nevertheless, it’s powerful to know that organisations can be changed for the better — sometimes simply by acting out the future that you want to see (this is very similar to the liminal thinking ideas of Dave Gray as Esko Reinikainenpointed out to me yesterday).

In Practice

In practical terms, being solution focussed involves one or more of the following activities.

  1. DECIDING where you want to go. It’s important to establish a positive goal before you set off. This may be obvious and it may not (by the way, an absence of something is not a destination).
  2. DESCRIBING in detail the reality you want to see once your goal has been achived — this will help you to make that preferred future a reality.
  3. NOTICING what’s already working to help you to make progress towards your preferred future — even when things are really bad there are always exceptions that you can build from.
  4. IDENTIFYING small steps to help you achieve your goal. These steps might include doing more of what’s already working, or might be things inspired by what’s worked well for you in the past.
  5. EXPERIMENTING with these small steps and reflecting on what has been better as a result.

This is not an approach that suits every situation and it is not always successful (although proponents will point to evidence that it usually is). It is, however, often helpful for making progress complex situations, particularly when things seem stuck.

Originally posted on Medium

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