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Critical Thinking for Teams

Knight Campbell
November 10, 2023
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99% of college professors say that critical thinking is the single most important concept students need to learn, but most studies show that students leave school unequipped to think critically. The top three skills employers wish new employees could do better are thinking critically, solving problems, and communicating effectively, but we rarely find critical thinking training in the workplace. Critical thinking for teams is a new skill and can make a huge difference. Here are some ideas to improve your collective critical thinking skills. 

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How do you know if the things you do are the right path and the things you believe are true? Here is a quick checklist to get you started.

What is Critical Thinking?

Why do we think? Many researchers say it’s a way to resolve uncertainty. It’s uncomfortable to confront uncertainty in our lives, so we try to figure things out in order to predict and control our surroundings. This takes a lot of work though, and unfortunately we are not very good at thinking systematically and completely. We often default to believing authority or past beliefs without evaluating what we hear to save time and energy. Great news for politicians and marketers, not so great for us.

critical thinking for teams checklist

Critical thinking derives from the ancient Greek word meaning “to judge.” It is a tool to judge the veracity (truth) and the validity (logical structural completeness) of your perceptions. It’s a way to gather and evaluate the information and arguments on which you build your beliefs, make your decisions, and take informed action in your life. 

So how does it work? Four tips to get started.

Get the facts.

It takes a lot of work to get the right facts. We like the intellectual standards that the Foundation for Critical Thinking outlines such as accuracy, depth and breadth. We often dive into these with clients on adventures. When we question assumptions about accuracy, dig for more depth, or cast a wider net for breadth, we often find we did not begin with all the facts. We also tend to misinterpret facts without rigorous examination. A good heuristic is to assume you don’t have the complete picture on the first pass.

Bottom line, there is a lot of noise out there. There are flat out lies, poorly articulated truths, and intentional miscommunications to sift through. You need to find ways to get the complete and true information so that you have solid building blocks for your foundation. Start out by identifying and questioning your assumptions, then push your team to do the same.

Learn how to use logic.

We all think we use logic, but truthfully we do not. In Ancient Greece, logic was core curriculum in school. If you start talking about inductive reasoning today, chances are eyes will glaze over. Most of us have zero formal schooling in logic, but it’s a tool you need to employ as a leader. If you have true facts, but they are not crafted into logical arguments, your beliefs could still be false.

A quick example of faulty logic that comes up often: When it rains, the road is wet (true fact). The road is wet (true fact). It must be raining (false conclusion). Clearly the road could be wet for many other reasons.

For a more immediate example: Lazy people turn in work late (true fact). Knight turned his work in late (true fact). Knight is lazy (I protest)! There are many other reasons I could have turned in my work late, and by assuming instead of asking, my leader will break down our working relationship over time.

Teaching your team basic logic and creating a norm to request logical explanations can eliminate a lot of confusion.

Cast a wide net with a diverse team.

One of the myriad reasons for having diversity on your team is to ensure different perspectives when you solve problems. If everyone looks at every problem as a nail, you’ll start hammering the wrong things. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to find people who have the opposite beliefs from you, buy them a coffee and listen. Critical thinking for teams assumes you have the right information and by sourcing lots of different perspectives, you can get the right basic assumptions more often. 

Reconsider your beliefs regularly.

A core principle of critical thinking is intellectual humility. If you formed your core beliefs and values in high school or college and have not rigorously reexamined them since, you are due for some critical thinking. The moment you believe you are 100% right about something you should rethink it. If this strikes a chord for you, check out the book Think Again by Adam Grant. If your team holds any truths sacred, consider taking down the idols and ensuring you’re not the next Kodak or Blockbuster.

Thinking is like walking, we have all been doing it for a long time and we assume we are all good at it. But if you and your team are not intentionally applying critical thinking frameworks, you are likely not optimized. You might be operating on faulty premises or you could be going full speed in the wrong direction.

Want to spend a half day outside building critical thinking skills? Fill out this quick questionnaire to see what a team program might look like for you!

Questions? We'd love to hear from you! 

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