critical thinking: 5 ways to increase your team's capacity to think

Critical Thinking: 5 Ways to Build Your Team’s Capacity to Think

“Karin, TRUST me. I would LOVE to delegate more of these decisions and loosen up the reigns, but then I go out into the field and find all this crap. I just don’t think we have the critical thinking skills we need for success.”

Have you ever said those words?

Yeah, me too.

Can you imagine the freedom in knowing that your team will use the same (or better) “common sense” as you when the going gets tough?

I love this simple definition of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is not a matter of accumulating information. A person with a good memory and who knows a lot of facts is not necessarily good at critical thinking. A critical thinker is able to deduce consequences from what he knows, and he knows how to make use of information to solve problems, and to seek relevant sources of information to inform himself.

So how do you build THAT?

5 Ways to Build Your Team’s Capacity to Think

Critical thinking is not a gene. Yes, it comes more naturally to some, but it is teachable (much of the time). Here are a few ways to get started.

1.  STOP being the hero.

It’s hard. Who doesn’t love being superman? Particularly when you know EXACTLY what to do. It’s even harder if your boss is a superman too and you’re their go-to guy.

There’s a certain rush from jumping in and doing what must be done at exactly the right time. And it can’t hurt, right? The worst you’re going to get after your superman intervention is a THANK YOU and a developmental discussion six months from now, saying you need to build a bench.

But here’s what we hear offline. “She’s great. But she’s a do-er. I’d put her in my lifeboat any time. But her team is weak.”

Great leaders don’t have weak teams.

Great leaders take the time to slow down just enough even during times of crises, to bring others along and help them rise to the occasion.

Great leaders aren’t heroes, they’re hero farmers. 

2. Connect What to Why (more often than you think is practical or necessary.)

Yes, you can overload your team with TMI (too much information), but the truth is I’ve NEVER heard a manager complain that their boss overexplained “why.”  It’s impossible to have great critical thinking if you’re not connected to the big picture (including key challenges).  If you want your team to exercise better judgment, give them a fighting chance with a bit more transparency.

3. Expose them to Messy Discussions.

It’s tempting to think we must have it all figured out before wasting our team’s time. But if you’re really working to build leadership capacity, it’s also important to sometimes bring your folks in BEFORE you have a clue. Let them see you wrestle in the muck and talk out loud. “We could do this … but there’s that and that to consider … and also the other thing.”

4. Hold “Bring a Friend” Staff Meetings.

An easy way to do #3 is through “Bring a Friend” staff meetings. Once in a while, invite your direct reports to bring one of their high-potential employees along to your staff meeting. Of course, avoid anything super sensitive, but be as transparent as possible. Every time I’ve done this, we’ve had employees leaving the meeting saying, “I had no idea how complicated this is,” and “Wow, that sure gave me a different perspective.”

5. Ask Strategic Questions (and encourage them to go research the answers.)

  • Why have your results improved so substantially?
  • What was different in August (or whenever you saw a change in pattern)?
  • What evidence do you have that this strategy is working?
  • How does this compare to your competition?
  • What’s changed since implementing this program?
  • How do you know it’s working?
  • What are the employees saying about the change, how do you know?
  • How do you know this is sustainable?
  • What would a pilot teach us?

Your turn. What are your best practices for building critical thinking capacity?

mistakes to avoid in your town hall meetingSee Also: 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Town Hall Meetings 

How to Help Your HR Team Be More Strategic

Executive Leadership: One Temptation Most Successful Executives Resist

If you’re an executive (or aspiring to be one) this time I’m writing for you. Not my usual M.O., I usually write for your teams (and how to help them deal with you 😉 But today, I write to you. Why? Because when senior leaders practice winning well behaviors, the culture shifts that much faster– and results not only go up, they stay up– and teams feel excited about what they’re up to.

The Temptation

In a recent conversation, “Mary” a senior leader at a Fortune 15 company shared the moment she “Got it.” That moment when she realized the easy temptation that was holding her back from being the best she could be in her role.

“I had five key functional areas I was responsible for, four of which I understood inside and out because I’d grown up in the business. I was confident in those arenas and showed up strong. But in a National Operations role, I also had responsibility for ‘fleet’–yup, the trucks.”

I thought, “Well, I don’t have to pay too much attention there.  I’ve got people for that. I’ll just concentrate on the aspects of the job where I can truly add value and trust my team to do what needs to be done with the fleet.”

And then one day, my boss, Carl, asked me to come with him to visit one of our garages. He opened the hood and said, “Mary is this oil supposed to be black?” I had no idea. “Mary, do you know why it matters?” Nope. “Mary, what’s the number one priority for the fleet department?” That I knew, thank God, “Safety, ” I shared confidently.

Carl continued, “I need you to go find out and understand the impact black oil has on safety. And, Mary, you can’t avoid learning about parts of this role just because you don’t like them. You’ve got to know enough to be able to inspect what’s going on.”

5 Things You Must Know About Every Functional Area You Oversee

As an executive, your job is all about strategy and execution across a large scope and scale. And like Mary, you likely have five or so functional areas you oversee. And if you’re like most execs we work with, there’s one area you particularly dislike. Yes, it starts with what Jim Collins calls “Getting the right people on the bus.” But to really rock your role as an executive, you also need to know every aspect of your role enough at least well enough to discern the following:

  1. What the data is really saying.
    When you’re not close to the business it’s easy to look at a good metric and say “Hmmm, looks great.” Take the time to dig past the averages and look at the outliers to know what’s really going on.
  2. What’s possible.
    The folks on your team who’ve been doing this forever may overlook new approaches because of they’re comfortable with the way things have always been done.  More about my experience with that here in my executive sales role at Verizon.
  3. Who’s crushing it.
    A key part of your role is ensuring the right people are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. See also: 5 Reasons Your Recognition is Backfiring
  4. The right questions.
    Asking the right questions will serve you well for two reasons: they encourage your team to think more strategically and come up with more creative solutions; AND, the better questions you ask, the more you’ll learn.
  5. Where the business is most vulnerable.
    If you’re not well-versed in an area, it’s easy to miss the “black oil.” Be sure you’re having the “own the ugly” conversations in every aspect of your business.

Are you (or do you work for) a Winning Well executive?

We would love to interview you as part of our Winning Well research. Please let me know if you (or an executive you know) would be willing to chat. 443 750 1249.