Encourage team members to think for themselves

Marcus Straub
Marcus Straub

Business owners and managers frequently ask me, “How do you teach people to think?” This is a powerful question, one that can lead to significantly better results. 

My answer: By learning to become a mentor and effective communicator and consistently encouraging your team members to think for themselves. 

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

There’s a tendency among business owners and managers to supply answers rather than spend time with team members to help them find answers themselves. The prevailing belief is this saves time. That might be accurate in the short term. In the long run, though, this approach costs more, weakens your business and adds to your responsibilities as your team becomes increasingly dependent on you for solutions.

Thinking is the process of evaluating a situation and exploring possible actions that lead to a desired outcome.

How do you use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves?

Begin by creating a safe environment for your team members to ask questions. Maintain composure — rather become angry, condescending, demeaning, disappointed, frustrated or judgmental — as you work together toward viable solutions. Nurture an environment where they’re safe to expose what they don’t know as they learn from you.

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 or take no action at all. This leads to errors that ripple throughout operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, time and resources are wasted, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This will result in more time and resources spent to fix not only errors, but also relationships with customers.

Next, encourage team members to come to you with questions rather than guessing about the correct course of action. Help team members realize there’s strength in tapping resources to gain understanding and finding solutions.

Here’s a critical component to your success. Rather than simply telling team members the correct answers, work with them to explore the situation. Ask open-ended questions. This will promote greater clarity as you work together for a solution.

Then, ask team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their ideas. If their perception of the situation isn’t accurate, ask more questions to help them deduce the best possible solution or send them in the direction of information that holds the solution.

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

Over time, you’ll identify how best to mentor each individual, and team members will learn they can collaborate with you to improve their abilities to make sound decisions. This creates a strong bond between you and your team. In addition, your team will become more competent, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver better experiences to customers.

Keep in mind a majority of people have been conditioned to rely on others for answers instead of learning to think on their own. They’ve collected a lifetime of experiences in which they were told who to be, what to do and how to think. When this conditioning is understood and overcome, individuals access more of their potential and perform at higher levels.

You have a choice to make in developing team members: You can either increase their dependency on you for solutions or empower them to look for answers on their own. 

When you invest in your team members and their abilities to think their way through situations to find solutions, you’re helping them empower themselves. This improves their abilities, lessens their dependence on you, strengthens your business from within and improves your company performance.