No one is born with perfect critical thinking skills. And, in our extensive research on innovation and problem solving we found 45% of employees said they’ve never been training in critical thinking and problem solving.
No matter how hardworking and loyal your team may be, lack of critical thinking skills will keep team members from reaching their full potential. Not to mention that building teams of critical thinkers and problem solvers will give you a distinct competitive advantage.
How to Help Your Team Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Here are five crucial tactics to use if you want to see more critical thinking from your team.
1. Ensure Your Team Understands What Success Looks Like
When managers come to us and say “my team lacks critical thinking skills” or “my team is just not that strategic, the biggest issue is often that they just don’t have enough information to be strategic.
Be sure that your team can answer these strategic questions.
- Why do we do what we do?
- How does our team’s work contribute to the company’s mission?
- What do our customers really want?
- Who are our major competitors and what differentiates us in the market?
- How does the way we do our work impact other departments?
- How can we better articulate what we need to the departments we rely on?
- What’s the most important thing we’re working on and why?
2. Answer "Why" Early and Often
When you give your team instructions, you naturally expect immediate action. In the moment, it can feel like an obstruction for an employee to ask, "Why?" In the grand scheme of things, however, you want employees who ask questions.
Explaining the why gives your employees the context they need to make decisions on the same high level every time.
3. Let Your Team in On the Messy Decision-Making Process
As leaders, it's only natural to want to show up to every meeting totally prepared. We often feel like we have to have every detail worked out before we present a new plan. After all, you don't want to waste your team's finite time with endless meetings.
If you want to encourage critical thinking, however, expose your team to the messy process of decision-making (see also our Managers Guide to Better Decision Making)
Even if you have the final say, make your team feel included. Treat every suggestion with respect, whether it is a great idea or not. I
If you don't let your team see behind the curtain, you aren't building the next generation of leaders. And when you do adopt a team member's idea, be sure to give them credit (note 56% of the respondents in our research said the reason they don’t share ideas is for fear that they won’t get the credit.).
4. Take Advantage of the "Plus One" Staff Meeting
Periodically, ask each direct report to invite one of their high-potential employees to the next staff meeting.
Naturally, a "plus one" meeting shouldn't feature any super-sensitive topics.
However, there's a lot of value in exposing your more inexperienced employees to a higher level of planning and decision-making. Your employees can gain totally new perspectives by sitting in on meetings they wouldn't typically attend. Mixing things up helps you identify and nurture new leaders who will keep your organization strong for years to come.
5. Help them to Vet Their I.D.E.A.s
Another way to help your team think more critically is to help them vet their ideas. Encourage them to ask four strategic questions about their ideas as they share them.
I- Why is this idea interesting (meaning how is it strategically aligned with where you most need a great idea)
D- Is this idea doable (have them explain why their idea could actually be done)
E- Engaging (help them consider key stakeholders they could include in the planning)
A- Actions (what are their recommended next steps. Bonus points if they offer to do them.
These 5 ways are a great way to help your team to develop their critical thinking skills. When you consistently work with your team over time to develop the confidence and competence to think more critically, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of ideas. And you’ll have more time to focus on the work that you are best suited to do.
Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.