Your business is only as strong as the individual team members operating within it. For your company to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught, and then continually encouraged, to think for themselves rather than relying on you or others for answers or even guessing at a solution.
A client of mine recently asked, “How do you teach people to think critically?” This is a powerful question, and the answer can lead to a marked improvement in results: by learning to use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves. “Critical thinking” is the process of evaluating a situation and then exploring possible solutions to effectively guide your beliefs and actions.
Among business owners and managers, there’s a tendency to simply give answers rather than spending time with team members to help them find answers. This is due to a false belief that this saves time. This might be true in the short term. However, this approach actually costs more time in the long run as your team comes to rely upon you more and more for answers and solutions.
It’s important to understand that people who don’t feel safe asking questions will often guess as to what action is best to take. This frequently leads to errors that have a ripple effect throughout business operations: accounts aren’t handled effectively, customers become disgruntled and the business is negatively impacted. This, in turn, will result in more time being spent to repair both the error and the relationship with the client.
So, how do we encourage people to think for themselves?
Begin by creating a safe environment where your team members can ask questions. Never become disappointed, frustrated, angry, judgmental or condescending with anyone as you work together toward a viable solution. Build a positive environment where team members are safe to expose what they don’t know to work with and learn from you.
Next, encourage team members to come to you with questions rather than guessing about the correct course of action to take. Help them understand there’s strength in using available resources to create successful solutions.
Here’s a critical component to your success: Rather than simply telling your team members the correct answers, take time to work with them in exploring the situation at hand. Ask them questions about the situation with which they’re dealing. This will allow you to see where they’re at with it.
Then, ask them what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perceptions of the solution aren’t accurate, ask further questions to help them deduce the best possible solution.
Finally, have them teach back to you what you just taught them. This will let you know whether more work is needed and it will help them to further ingrain what they’ve learned.
Over time, as you take on this new mentoring approach, you’ll learn how to best work with each individual on your team. They’ll learn they can work with you to grow in their abilities to make sound decisions. This creates a very strong bond between you and your team. In addition, your team will grow stronger, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver a far greater experience to clients.
There’s a choice to be made regarding the development of people. You can either make them dependent upon you for solutions or you can empower them to look for answers on their own.
Remember that through a lifetime of experiences in which people are told who to be, what they should do and how they should think, a good majority have been conditioned to rely on others for answers instead of learning to think on their own. When this previous conditioning is understood and overcome, individuals are able to access more of their potential and perform at higher levels.
In every instance in which I have taught the leadership of a company to use effective communication to develop independent, motivated and thoughtful team members, the entire organization has experienced greater levels of happiness and success.
When you take the time to help your team members explore a situation and think their way through it to a successful solution, you’re fundamentally helping them to empower themselves. This lessens their dependence on you, grows their abilities and improves your company’s performance. With this powerful approach, everyone wins.