Top 5 Tips for Developing Employees' Critical Thinking Skills

BY C. Lee Smith
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Critical thinking skills. If your employees don’t have them, they need to get them. Fast. How can a manager improve a team member’s critical thinking skills? First, they must understand how and why employees make decisions. Then, managers can make team members aware of their thinking process and how to become more effective.

Preparing Your Employees to Become Critical Thinkers

As Michelle Jones writes for the Duke​.edu learning and organization development site, “…half of employers rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as average or worse.” While it may not be easy to define critical thinking, managers can identify the problem when they see it. If your employees are not completing their assignments on time with an acceptable level of quality, there’s a potential critical thinking deficit. You’ll need to take action. You can do this by making sure they understand what they are supposed to do. And you can also break the assignment into smaller pieces.

Every Team Member Can Improve

If your employee is still struggling to complete tasks, don’t fall into the trap of believing an employee is unteachable. They may simply need to learn in a style that’s different from what you’re accustomed to teaching. 

Try different methods, such as encouraging them to think of the project in terms of the end user’s viewpoint. And, you can help them learn to determine which information is important in reaching decisions and a conclusion as they work.

Joel Garfinkle, an executive coach, encourages managers to “Ask your employees questions that make them think.” Get their opinion on whether they think a new project will be successful. And then go a step further. Ask them why they think the way they do. 

This process helps them to think through why they have developed a specific opinion. Once they verbalize their thinking, they may adjust it.

Understand the Barriers to Critical Thinking

Your employees may come from a background where it was not safe to share ideas or opinions that were different from what the managers and leaders believed. That kind of workplace culture stifles creativity and critical thinking. As a manager, you should regularly reassure your team members that you’re open to fresh ideas. And when an employee is brave enough to make a suggestion, thank them publicly. Even if you don’t intend to use the idea, you’re signaling a positive attitude and welcoming their attempts to broaden their thinking.

Moving Beyond Egoism

In addition, your employees may have never been prompted to move beyond egoism – “viewing everything in relation to yourself,” Tanya Ileto Diaz points out. This viewpoint limits an individual’s ability to think critically or to consider a problem from another perspective. 

Managers can help team members break out of that mindset by pairing them with an employee who possesses a radically different background. As they work together on a project, employees will see how a peer tackles problems and steers around roadblocks. And the experience will encourage them to think on another level.

Use Team Projects to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

In today’s competitive and fast-​moving economy, the prize often goes to organizations that can identify problems and develop appropriate solutions. To find the right solution, you may need several team members to participate in ideation sessions about which solution makes the most sense. 

Discussion and debate encourage reflection and expose employees to other points of view, helping them to recognize their own biases and look at the problem from different perspectives,” says Joel Garfinkle. Managers should monitor these discussions, keeping the tone positive and praise people who put forth unusual ideas.

Personalize Training for Critical Thinking Improvement

We know that most students don’t enter the workforce with the kind of critical thinking skills they need to make a difference. Primary and secondary school teachers are overwhelmed by the volume of material they must communicate as they guide students to succeed on standardized tests. 

Until that situation improves, managers are left with the challenges of helping employees become critical thinkers.

Before you start a program to improve your employees’ critical thinking skills, take time to learn about them. A psychometric assessment will give you detailed information about what motivates their workplace behavior and how to communicate with them. 

Studying these results before you put a training program in place will help to personalize critical thinking improvement for your employees.

Photo by Vanessa Garcia on Pexels.