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Is critical thinking part of your company culture?

Dena Cordova-Jack, Building Culture

Recently, Google completed a multi-year study of team performance within various cultures. Unsurprisingly, the findings of the study reflected that teams performed at their highest levels while in a learning culture where they felt safe to take risks and share ideas without fear of repercussion. These teams were successful in an environment where critical thinking was highly valued, and the process was a foundational norm.

High-performing individuals and teams exhibit critical thinking skills in their highest form, and because this thinking model was part of the day-to-day operation, the team utilized “group think” to find solutions to their challenges. Additionally, the highest-performing teams were comprised of intelligent people with varying skill sets and inter-personal communication styles. All possessed a high degree of humility, and held a core belief that “all of us are smarter than one of us.” Both individually and collectively, they were able to find unique ways to solve issues.

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As leaders, you have developed a decision-making model or process that doesn’t rely on intuition or muscle memory. According to Psychology Today, the three core skills for critical thinking are analysis, evaluation, and inference. When we evaluate our employees and our culture, creating a learning environment that encourages associates at all levels of the organization to learn and utilize critical thinking skills will put your company light years ahead when searching for solutions to issues. If you want to increase your company’s critical thinking process and practice, here are some suggestions you may find helpful.

When individuals and teams utilize critical thinking, it may be helpful for them to have an opportunity to explain how they arrived at their conclusions. If you lead with questions, you will quickly see how they arrived at their findings, whether through a rational thought process or in a more subconscious way. They may have made that decision through cognitive dissonance and/or confirmation bias. If they cannot explain their thought process, they may become frustrated when asked the following:

1.   How did you arrive at this solution?

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2.   Have you considered other options?

3.   Do you foresee any risks?

4.   What are your goals, and what do you hope to achieve?

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5.   Have you completed your objectives, and if so, how?

6.   Is there anything that you would have done differently?

7.   What are the most important things that you have learned?

If you experience frustration from your team when you integrate critical thinking at a higher level in your culture, that is a normal response. Give it time, keep the focus, and your team will eventually default to this method of thinking when faced with challenging situations.

Unless you enjoy being the Oracle of All Things, train your associates in critical thinking and create a learning culture. You don’t want your employees (or your customers) to run to you every time a decision needs to be made. Make critical thinking a required part of any decision-making process at your company, whether you are meeting one-on-one or with a group. Creating a culture where critical thinking is a foundational process in decision-making will significantly reduce costly errors in judgement and have an overall positive benefit to the bottom line.

Empower your employees, set the tone that critical thinking should be a part of every decision at any level of the organization, and free yourself to focus on future state and strategy of your company.

Dena Cordova-Jack built her 30+ year career with GP, Boise Cascade, Foxworth-Galbraith, and most recently as VP of Organizational Development for Kodiak Building Partners. She currently serves as Vice President for Misura Group. Reach Dena at dcordovajack@misuragroup.com.

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