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Building Critical Thinking Skills to Solve Problems at Work

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: January 8, 2018
Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Critical thinking is a vital soft skill for an organization's success. Try following this six-step problem-solving process with your team to build and use this skill.

One of the leading challenges that companies face in the coming decade is the use of critical thinking skills in the workplace. The ability to use information from a broader and more impartial perspective offers your employees a way to make more informed decisions and also see a comprehensive view of any situation. The U.S. Department of Labor has recently identified critical thinking as a raw material for some vital workplace skills, including problem-solving and decision-making.

Companies have recognized the need for integrating this soft skill into the workplace to help build the success of their organizations. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, an analysis by Indeed.com found that mentions for critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009. This review is supported by the American Management Association Critical Skills Survey, which found that over 70 percent of participating managers identified critical thinking as a crucial element of employee development.

Critical thinking helps individuals look at situations from multiple sides, and then imagine several different ways to respond. This open process of thinking introduces ideas and solutions that expand the opportunities for success. One of the main reasons businesses don't embrace critical thinking as an essential part of their organization is that they feel they are just too busy. The focus on day-to-day operations and profit growth takes priority over implementing this soft skill. But companies that develop this skill can see an increase in teamwork and productivity, and a reduction in conflict. These long-term benefits outweigh the time invested in fostering the skill. You can incorporate activities into the workday that integrate critical thinking without using external training programs.

Here is a problem-solving process for team building that expands the use of critical thinking for your employees.

1. Name the situation.

When you name the situation, you present a single discussion point that everyone in the discussion can identify. This statement can be written on a whiteboard as a visual prompt so that everyone in the team keeps the focus on the point, redirecting the discussion to the focal point when the topic shifts. Critical thinking involves keeping an open mind about situations. You help participants remember the goal of the group by naming the situation.

2. List all possible solutions.

Brainstorming takes place during this part of the process. There is nothing outside the realm of possibilities at this point in the discussion. When you open the conversation to unlimited options, you expand thinking beyond one person. The ability to expand your thinking offers the conversation many possible solutions that you may not have considered without the expression of thoughts and opinions. Make sure that all potential solutions discussed during this time stay on task for the situation that has been named in step one. Critical thinking includes the ability to keep an open mind to other considerations and viewpoints without losing track of the end goal. You expand the discussion to see new options and also stay on task by identifying multiple opportunities.

3. Narrow your solutions to three options.

Everyone in the team needs to agree with at least one of the three options. Individuals who can find a compromise and create solutions from many perspectives are better able to bring a team together. Print each solution at the top of a whiteboard and write below each one a list of its advantages and disadvantages using a rational argument. Critical thinking skills offer the ability to look at situations rationally without judgments of good and bad or wrong and right. You help keep a rational discussion in place when you bring consensus to a few intentionally chosen solutions.

4. Choose one option from the three choices.

Make a final choice that offers the best chance of success based on the rational discussion about the situation. Review this choice in relation to how well it solves the designated problem. Critical thinking skills help individuals use a more systematic way to come to conclusions. This reduces the chance of making decisions based on incorrect inferences arising from emotional conclusions.

5. Put a plan in place to implement the chosen solution.

Your chosen solution should have timelines and a list that identifies which participants are responsible for what parts of the final plan. Critical thinking skills include the ability to commit to the chosen solution. You increase attention to detail and interest from the participants in implementing the solution when they are an integral part of the process.

6. Complete the plan.

Some employees find this part of the process the most difficult. Think of the number of times a great plan floundered because there was no follow-up. Make sure each person from the team has a part to play in the process that emphasizes their areas of expertise and interest. Complete regular reviews of people and timelines for project management. Critical thinking involves the ability to see the value of the overall plan. At this point in the process, individuals should be able to see the value of the solution and have buy-in since they were part of the process.

This problem-solving process creates an environment where critical thinking becomes a working part of finding a solution. For individuals who struggle with this method, you may want to consider some training in critical thinking. Overall, though, this process promotes critical thinking in your employees. You can also integrate this activity for making plans and creating a mission. The value added to your organization includes improved engagement, insight and productivity from your team.

 

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