Northwest Brief Therapy Training Center
Solution-Focused Management: Principles
Underlying Solution-Focused Management (SFM) are a set of central principles and assumptions about managing people, organizations and change. Since SFM has evolved in a heuristic, inductive way, the principles and assumptions came after the fact to explain “what works”. However, it is useful to understand the principles and assumptions of SFM to be able to put the particular skill set and kinds of questions of the approach into a broader context.
SFM originally came out of 1960’s and 1970’s questioning traditional approaches to psychotherapy and change, especially classical Western, scientific views. The work of the Palo Alto group (e.g. Fish, Weakland, & Segal, 1983) who challenged traditional view of human communication and interaction, and the work of the innovative psychiatrist, Milton Erickson (Crystal Ball Technique), set the stage for this approach.
Steve deShazer and Insoo Kim Berg originated solution-focused thinking with their colleagues at the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and developed the approach within the context of psychotherapy. Early on, their co-workers realized the potential for working in organizations with a solution-focused perspective. In conjunction with Steve and Insoo, they evolved SFM (e.g. Jackson & McKergow, 2007; Berg & Szabó, 2005; Lueger & Korn 2006).
In late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, the Milwaukee team discovered that every problem contains an element of solutions (exceptions to problems) and that it was useful to pay attention to those exceptions. They showed that a solution, sometimes in surprising ways, was possible and might be independent of (unrelated to) the problem.
Emphasis on strengths, resources and abilities.
look for what is right and how to use it rather than what’s wrong and how to fix it.
assume healthy and useful patterns already exist, but may be unrecognized (can skip talking about the problem and then develop a solution), just need to bring it out. One can only get the person or organization to succeed with the resources etc. they have available to them already.
ocus on healthy/helpful patterns also implies that clients have the answers already in them, not expert outsiders. Therefore we don’t have difficult or resistant clients, we don’t need to sell them on our solutions.
term used by Erickson (exploring a client’s individuality to ascertain what life learnings, experiences, and mental skills are available to deal with the problem, and then using them to achieve therapeutic goals.
use individuals’ or team’s existing skills, resources, knowledge, motivation, beliefs, social network, circumstances, symptoms and personal idiosyncrasies to lead them to desired outcomes.
need to find client’s frame of reference first.
no assumption about the “true” nature of the problem(s) clients experience. Need to look at each client’s particular complaint/goal to find solutions for that individual. Harder work, not one size fits all.
outside expert/consultant/supervisor/helper is no longer the “true” expert on the problem, more of a student or apprentice. It is necessary to learn how the client conceptualizes the complaint/goal.
requires flexibility of the helper.
not explain why the problem exists, client’s view is accepted at face value. No convincing that they must accept a particular theoretical orientation to get help. Denial or resistance are a helper-generated problem.
choose the simplest and most straightforward means to an end, add complexity only when needed.
problems/complaints clients bring in are not necessarily the superficial manifestations of deeper underlying pathology (therefore requiring deep and prolonged intervention).
oftentimes intervention is just a matter of getting something started (a small change leading to a big change), get client going in desired direction, then let go (get the hell out of the way).
Change is inevitable.
most people have already started to change before they ask for help or come to the attention of those who see a problem.
in fact, clients can’t prevent themselves from changing as they respond to their surroundings.
because clients often see their complaints as constant, exceptions go unnoticed, even though they are usually much more interesting and useful in developing realistic solutions.
Present and future orientation.
present and future is what counts, cannot change the past.
not past-phobic, what clients say about their past is a reflection about how they are see themselves and their problems, but SFM uses only what is relevant to the present and future, not past-oriented for its own sake.
”miracle question”, imagine a time in the future when the problem does not exist, talk about goal, describe goal in great detail, “operationalize” it.
find ways for outside expert/supervisor/helper to cooperate with client, clients tend to be very patient with their helpers. Both client and helper contribute to a working relationship and co-create the outcome through their interaction.
find out what client wants, help them work towards it with them.
If it ain’t broke, DON’T FIX IT!
Once you know what works, DO MORE OF IT!
If it doesn’t work, then don’t do it again, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT!
Berg, I.K. & Szabó, P. (2005) Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions.
New York: W.W.Norton & Co.
Erickson, M., Rossi, E., & Rossi, S. (1976). Hypnotic Realities.
New York: Irvington.
Fish, R., Weakland, J.H., & Segal, L. (1983). The Tactics of Change: Doing Therapy Briefly.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jackson, P.Z. & McKergow, M. (2007). The Solution Focus: The SIMPLE Way to Positive Change (2nd Ed.).
London: Nicholas Brealey International.