What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is a process of objective evaluation of facts and the consideration of possible solutions to problems. According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking, the concept dates back to early methods of questioning to achieve knowledge practiced by the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. Today, organizations value critical thinking as a means to greater innovation and improved problem-solving. In fact, the skill is deemed so important that a survey of leading chief human resource officers conducted by the World Economic Forum found that critical thinking will be the second most important skill in the workplace by 2020, second only to complex problem-solving skills.
Critical thinking is important because it helps individuals and teams more effectively diagnose problems and identify possible solutions that aren’t entirely obvious at first. In addition, critical thinking can help resolve conflicts in the workplace. When individuals consider a range of possible approaches to solving a problem rather than relying on bias or snap judgments, they are more likely to arrive at a better solution.
Ways to Promote Critical Thinking in the Workplace
Some ways you can promote critical thinking in the workplace involve making changes in your workplace culture; others involve training. Here are five ways to encourage critical thinking in your organization.
1. Hire and Promote Critical Thinkers
An important first step to building organizational strength in critical thinking is to hire individuals who are already strong in that area. Behavioral interviewing is an effective way to gauge a candidate’s strengths in critical evaluation and analysis. In addition, when you make critical thinking a desired competency for leadership and promotion, you begin to build a pipeline of talented critical thinkers.
2. Build a Culture of Learning
It's critical to create an environment where the behaviors related to critical thinking are a natural part of your company culture. Some of the ways you can build and support a culture that stimulates critical, objective analysis include:
- Incorporating “lessons learned” discussions after the conclusion of important projects, during which employees have the opportunity to look back on areas where more critical thinking might have been helpful in improving a project’s outcome
- Creating an environment where tough questions are welcomed and employees are encouraged to talk through alternatives openly
- Developing a routine or protocol for decision-making that encourages critical-thinking behaviors such as exploring possible solutions to a problem, exploring bias, and considering the consequences of different proposed solutions
3. Avoid Jumping to Conclusions
Another way to promote critical thinking in the workplace is to avoid jumping to conclusions. Instead, approach a problem by first developing a common understanding of the challenges it presents. According to a recent helpful article, these are a few ways to accomplish this:
- Ask questions about the origin of a problem and how it evolved
- Define the desired outcome before settling on a solution to the problem
- Avoid overthinking possible solutions, which can slow down the problem-solving process and undermine disciplined thinking
4. Create Internal Forums
Sometimes the simple act of talking things out can help to spur the critical, objective analysis of problems. When individuals have a forum for addressing and discussing one big problem or a series of related problems, they generate new ideas, share pros and cons of certain solutions, and take advantage of opportunities to collaborate with coworkers on creative solutions to workplace problems.
5. Teach and Train
Leadership development and teamwork-skills training can help build employees’ critical thinking strengths by encouraging a mind-set and skill-set change. As individuals learn new behaviors, they begin to see broader problems and solutions that exist beyond their individual roles and consider the larger picture when looking at a problem.
Experiential learning works particularly well in promoting critical thinking because learning by doing encourages a critical skill set. The immersive nature of an experiential approach keeps employees fully engaged so that they continually use their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
Build Critical Thinking in the Whole Organization
Critical thinking is more than a desirable soft skill; it’s a valuable competency that is the basis for innovation and problem-solving. When properly cultivated in the workplace, critical thinking can help individuals and teams overcome challenges and meet business goals. Although there’s no magic bullet that will increase critical thinking in the workplace, a variety of activities in combination can effectively promote it. When you build a culture that promotes and values critical thinking, your organization as a whole will see greater results and outcomes.