The decline of critical thinking in daily business is lamented by many. Overlooked as a cause: In this complex, connected world, it’s not good enough to have people on your team thinking critically in isolation. To succeed, teams must demonstrate critical thinking skills together.

Too often what gets in the way is that small group of people on the team who dominate discussions. They don’t mean to be destructive. Yet, despite their good intentions, each time they speak – and others don’t – the business loses in two ways:

  • Let’s say you ask a question and the same 20% of your team that always talks jumps in with their answers. The result: Never to be realized are the critical perspectives of 80% of your team (for which your organization is already paying).
  • Equally painful: Whoever answers a question or shares an opinion first has just monopolized the focus of the team. Because humans can only focus on one thought at a time, now all ten people in the meeting are evaluating or considering only one angle of a topic. (This is particularly costly for organizations that are seeking to innovate.)

So, what do you do?

The first time I saw this technique, I thought it was strange. Not because it wasn’t effective (it’s incredibly so), but because it’s rarely used.

The next time you want to engage 100% of your team, gather diverse ideas and insights, and ensure a collective focus on a critical topic, do this: Ask everyone to write their answer to your question before allowing any discussion.

A meeting where no one is speaking will be strange in organizations where people aren’t given time to think, let alone critically. And, some people are going to look confused: Write my answers down first? Why?

So, tell them why: “I want to explore as many angles and insights on this topic as possible. And I want everyone to be prepared to answer when I call on them. So, please take one minute to write your answer.

Now, be comfortable with the silence. (A difficult task for leaders who confuse noise with productivity.)

Initially, this will be the longest minute of the day for some teams. Yet, would you rather have an uncomfortable minute in exchange for 59 productive minutes – or 60 minutes listening to the same people talk and distract the team from where it needs to focus?

And there’s a bonus: Once people have written their answers, now you can call on anyone – because you’ve respectfully given them time to collect their thoughts. (This technique works brilliantly in virtual settings, as well.)

Can your team think critically together? Ask your team for their ideas on how to improve in this area – and have them write their answers first.

 

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