Whether we’re engaging in a brainstorming session, product development discussions, or strategic planning, we expect that our team is bringing their best possible thinking to the table. We expect that they will be actively engaged, informed, and free from distractions. But sometimes that isn’t enough. There’s a silent killer of effective thinking in the workplace, and it’s hard to overcome.
It’s the culture.
Despite all of our best efforts, team members may take cues from the organizational culture and stifle their own best creative and critical thinking in an effort of self-preservation. It’s important to identify (and correct) these hurdles to effective thinking.
Ask yourself how often these scenarios happen in your organization:
• Emphasis on Mistakes over Learning—What happens after a project or idea fails? What conversation or reflection takes place? Is anyone in fear of losing his/her job? How quickly does the blame game set in? In a corporate culture that supports/fosters critical thinking and creativity, mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Employees shouldn’t be afraid of punishment, but instead they should work toward conducting a post mortem and share what they learned with others. When it’s okay to make mistakes, you move past looking for someone/something to blame and move towards being able to accept where the error in decision making occurred (and correct it in the future).
• Silos, Silos Everywhere—When you’re making a decision as a team, how often do you brainstorm who ELSE could shed light on the topic? How often do you bring in people from other divisions, departments, or areas of expertise to weigh in? When you have a tight-knit, cohesive team that is excited about a new idea, it’s very easy to push ahead without asking for outside help/advice. That can be dangerous. Sometimes we jump on the bandwagon just because we like our teammates, not necessarily the idea. We also sometimes keep our projects a secret because we don’t want someone from the outside questioning them or shutting them down. And that should be the #1 sign that there’s a problem with the idea. You already know the answer if you’re afraid to ask the question.
• Too Much “Yes”—How often does your team challenge you as the manager? Do they ever ask for data or evidence that backs up your claims? Do they identify weaknesses in your argument? Does anyone fill the Devil’s Advocate role? If you can’t remember the last time your team pushed back on your ideas, then you may be experiencing some corporate groupthink. Take time to build trust in your team. Assure them that asking questions is not a sign of disrespect. In fact, go out of your way to encourage dissenting opinions. You could even assign someone the role of Devil’s Advocate to try to break the cycle of groupthink.
• Too Much “No”—How often do you hear the following statements? We’ve tried that before. That will never work. We won’t be able to get approval for that. When new ideas are shut down immediately, it not only stops the idea evolution (creative thinking) process, but it also makes the team member feel dejected, embarrassed, or undervalued. They may keep silent about future ideas because they don’t want to feel rejected again. Try using some brainstorming techniques such as reserving judgment with your team and see where it takes you.
When we’ve created a collaborative, trusting culture where asking questions is valued, we will help all team members bring their best thinking to the table every time.