Do you encourage your team members to think?

Marcus Straub
Marcus Straub

If your company is to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught — and then continually encouraged — to think their way through situations rather than relying upon you and others for answers or even guessing at a solution.

Business owners and managers frequently ask me, “How do you teach people to think?” This is a powerful question, one to which the answer can lead to a marked improvement in results: by learning to use effective communication and encouraging people to think for themselves.

“Thinking” is the process of employing one’s rational mind in evaluating a situation and then exploring possible actions that will lead to the desired outcome or solution.

Among business owners and managers, there’s an all too common tendency to simply supply answers rather than spending time with team members to help them find the answers for which they’re looking. This is due to a prevailing belief 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 depend upon you more and more for 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 can ripple throughout business operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This, in turn, will result in more time spent to fix both the error and the relationship with the client.

So, how do you use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves?

Begin by creating a safe environment where your team members can ask questions. This is accomplished through composure — not becoming disappointed, frustrated, judgmental, condescending or angry with anyone as you work together toward a viable solution. Build a positive environment where team members feel safe to expose what they don’t know as they 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 tapping available resources to create successful solutions.

Here’s a critical component to your success: Rather than simply telling team members the correct answers, take time to work with them in exploring the situation. Ask them open-ended questions about the situation with which they’re dealing. This will allow everyone involved to develop greater clarity as you work together for a solution.

Then, ask the team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perception of the situation isn’t accurate, ask further questions to help them deduce the best possible solution.

Finally, have them read back what they’ve learned. This will let you know whether or not more work is needed and help them further ingrain what they’ve learned.

Over time, you’ll identify how to best mentor each individual. Team members will learn they can collaborate with you as they improve their abilities to make sound decisions. This creates a strong bond between you and your team. Your team will grow stronger, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver far better experiences to clients.

Remember that through a lifetime of experiences in which they’re told who to be, what to do and how to think, a good majority of people 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 can realize more of their potential and perform at higher levels.

There’s a choice to be made in developing people: You can either make them dependent upon you for solutions or empower them to look for answers on their own.

In every instance in which I’ve 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 invest in your team members and their ability to think their way through a given situation to a successful solution, you’re fundamentally helping them to empower themselves. This grows their abilities, lessens their dependence on you, strengthens your business from within and improves your company’s performance.