Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills
Have you ever driven home after a long day at work in a mental state of autopilot? This is called ‘highway hypnosis,’ when you travel from one location to another without recollection of the process. This common experience occurs when your attention is occupied by other internal thoughts, while still maintaining a level of external awareness.
‘Highway hypnosis” can occur in multiple contexts, including the workplace. There have likely been times when you’ve completed a routine task at work without thinking deeply about the best approach or process. This could be due to a short timeline, level of experience, or prioritization of other thoughts. This mental state is often unsustainable, or in some contexts, unsafe. Worse than that, though, it means you likely aren’t using your critical thinking skills to achieve optimal outcomes.
Critical thinking is one of the most desirable and important skills in the workplace. From effective decision-making, to analyzing different sources of media, to generating the right questions to arrive at greater clarity and understanding – critical thinking is key to strong performance. Moreover, critical thinking can distinguish you as a leader and improve your quality of work overall.
What is ‘Critical Thinking’?
It is likely that you have heard business executives, policy makers, civic leaders, and educators use the term ‘critical thinking.’
Critical thinking can be defined as the ability to analyze information to inform a perspective or action. The Delphi Report, written by Dr. Facione and colleagues (1990), identifies six cognitive skills that give rise to critical thinking: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, inference, explanation, and self-regulation. Each of these skills should be leveraged within the workplace to achieve reasoned thinking and improved outcomes.
How can I drive critical thinking within my team?
One key factor to drive critical thinking is time. Helen Bouygues, the President of the Paris-based Reboot Foundation and former partner at McKinsey & Company, outlines three habits to improve critical thinking skills: question assumptions, reason through logic, and diversify thought. To live these habits daily, it takes time.
It may be more efficient to gather instructions at face value and rely on existing systems or processes that have been completed in the past. But, without analyzing the reasoning behind decisions and tasks, this approach leaves space for inefficiencies, misinterpretations, or, in some situations, errors.
Tip: Adding 5-7 minutes at the end of meetings can create space to reflect, ask questions, and ensure clear understanding prior to engaging in next steps.
You can also encourage team members to think critically by measuring and rewarding outcomes related to critical thinking. Publicly acknowledge and reward innovations – even failures – that rest on strong questioning and creative approaches. Embed critical thinking into your organization’s culture through your values or Guiding Principles, and performance metrics.
Far too often organizations and businesses do not take sufficient time to engage in robust forms of reasoning. But the outcomes of critical thinking can lead to enhanced creativity, stronger problem-solving, and increased empowerment and accountability. Most importantly, an emphasis on critical thinking helps to avoid the unsafe state of ‘highway hypnosis’ and can strengthen team performance.
A strong executive team works at continuous improvement.
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