Training and Development: 4 Ideas to Build a Culture of Critical Thinking
In an organizational context, middle managers are the glue that binds strategy at the top with execution on the floor. The role of middle managers is very crucial because they run their projects, handle departments and manage people. This also means that decisions they take on their initiatives has a net direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. I have been a witness to so many software projects that failed because of a few decisions (on design, architecture or execution method) or assumptions that went wrong.
For training, development and evaluation of middle managers, why is critical thinking, as the primer for high-stake competencies, often overlooked? It is assumed that previous experience in similar area of work contributes to better decision making. Secondly, the outcome of a poor decision at project or department level is not immediately visible at an organization level.
The reality is that training middle managers on critical thinking skills is much like teaching an adult to ride a bicycle. It takes patience, training and practice to be able to master the art of critical thinking which, in turn, leads to good decision making. The starting point of building a culture of critical thinking is to incorporate critical thinking in organizational training programs.
Here are 4 ideas on structuring your training and development program to incorporate critical thinking:
- Educate all managers on fundamentals of critical thinking skills: Managers must understand the fundamental components of critical thinking process including recognizing assumptions, evaluating arguments and drawing conclusions (the RED Model) This induction training should go beyond “what to do and how to do it” and include “how to think about it”.
- Clarify role of critical thinking in managerial performance: When faced with issues, managers look for process steps and best practice when they should be really thinking about various alternative solutions to mitigate the issues. To be able to do this, managers must know how exactly critical thinking skills will help them perform better.
- Share real examples and cases to enable contextual understanding: In this group exercise, managers can take a look at some of the successful and failed initiatives/projects and deconstruct good and bad decisions taken on those initiatives. This exercise not only helps them understand the organizational context but also enables them to be more conscious about employing critical thinking in their own decisions.
- Organize collaborative problem solving sessions: This is a great way to promote critical thinking amongst the group of managers who present problems they are facing and other managers can evaluate alternative approaches to solve those problems. This also raises collective awareness amongst managers on common issues faced in a given organization context.
Too few managers come to their jobs with a critical thinking mindset; that is however a small problem. The bigger problem comes when they do not have an integrated ecosystem where they can develop their thinking skills.
The return on investment for critical thinking training tends to be extremely high. One company reported 17x ROI. And as a whole, participants in an onsite Critical Thinking Boot Camp workshop reported 74% of employees actually applying the new skills.
What do you think? What ideas do you recommend to integrate critical thinking within your learning and development effort? How do you promote a culture of critical thinking within your organization? Let us know through comments.
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