If you want your company to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught it’s acceptable — then continually encouraged — to think their way through situations rather than guessing at a solution or relying on you and others for answers.
There’s an all-too-common tendency among business owners and managers to simply supply answers rather than spend time with team members to help them find the answers themselves. While this approach might save time in the short term, in costs more time in the long run, weakens your business and adds to your responsibilities as your team becomes increasingly dependent on you for solutions.
Business owners and managers often ask me: How do you teach people to think? This is a powerful question that ultimately can lead to a significant improvement in results. The answer: By learning to be a mentor and an effective communicator and consistently encouraging your team members to think for themselves.
Thinking is the process of evaluating a situation and exploring possible actions that could lead to the desired outcome or solution.
So, how do you use effective communication to encourage people to think for themselves?
Begin by creating a safe environment in which team members can ask questions. This is accomplished through composure, not becoming angry, condescending, demeaning, disappointed, frustrated or judgmental as you work together toward a solution. Build a positive environment in which team members feel safe to expose what they don’t know as they work with and learn from you.
People who don’t feel safe asking questions will often guess about the best action to take. This frequently leads to errors that can ripple through operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, time and resources are wasted, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This, in turn, results in more time and resources spent to repair errors and 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 available resources to gain understanding and find 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. Ask them open-ended questions. This will allow everyone involved to develop greater clarity as you work together for a solution.
Ask team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perceptions of a situation aren’t accurate, ask additional questions to help them deduce the best possible solution or send them in the direction of information that holds the solution.
Finally, have them tell you what they’ve learned. This will let you know whether or not more work is needed and also helps to further ingrain what they’ve 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 a far better experience to customers.
Keep in mind most people have been conditioned to rely on others for answers instead of thinking for themselves. This comes from a lifetime of experiences being 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 about the development of team members: You can increase their dependency upon you for solutions or empower them to look for answers on their own.
When you invest in your team members and their ability to think through a given situation to a solution, you’re helping them empower themselves. This grows their abilities, lessens their dependence on you, strengthens your business from within and improves your company’s performance.