Critical thinking is one of the most in-demand skills in the workplace, yet, nearly half of employers rate their employees’ critical thinking skills as average or worse. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is little agreement around what critical thinking is exactly. Simply put, critical thinking is the process of analyzing information to get the best answer to a question or problem.
In reality, many employers lack an effective way to objectively assess critical thinking skills and countless managers don’t know how to provide specific instruction to team members in need of becoming better thinkers. Instead, managers often employ a sink-or-swim approach, ultimately creating work-arounds to keep those who can’t figure out how to “swim” from making important decisions.
What if we told you there is a better way? The professionals at Zarvana have developed the Critical Thinking Roadmap, a framework that breaks critical thinking down into four measurable phases: the ability to execute, synthesize, recommend, and generate. Within this detailed framework managers will learn:
- How to assess the critical thinking skills of each of your team members
- How to help those who are struggling
- How to recognize when a team member has mastered one phase and is ready for the next
Phase 1: EXECUTE
In this phase, team members simply do what they are asked to do. They complete all parts of their assignments on time and the quality of work is at or close to your professional standard. If a team member is struggling with this phase, make sure they understand your instructions by asking them to rearticulate each assignment before they begin. Provide clarity, if necessary, and consider breaking the assignment down into more manageable chunks. Once team members are making suggestions for how to improve their work, you know they’re ready for the next phase.
Phase 2: SYNTHESIZE
In this phase, team members learn to sort through a range of information and figure out what is important (such as summarizing the key takeaways after an important meeting). They should be able to identify and communicate all the important insights clearly and succinctly, while excluding all unimportant insights. Further, they should be able to accurately assess the relative importance of the important insights. You know team members are ready for Phase 3 when they can provide a summary of the important insights and implications for future work on the spot without preparation.
Phase 3: RECOMMEND
In this phase, team members move from identifying what is important to determining what should be done. When asking questions, they should be able to:
- Provide a recommendation backed by strong reasoning
- Demonstrate appreciation for the potential downsides of their recommendation
- Consider alternatives before reaching a final decision
Team members are ready to move to Phase 4 when they make reasonable recommendations that reflect sound business judgment on work that is not their own.
Phase 4: GENERATE
In this phase, team members become adept at translating the vision in others’ heads (and their own) into projects that can be executed. Many people don’t make it this far because they don’t give themselves permission to do the kind of open-ended thinking required. To help your team members move into this phase, ask them to keep a list of their ideas for improving a project, department, or organization and invite them to share those ideas with you regularly.
It’s time to reject the notion that critical thinking is either an innate gift that can’t be developed or a skill learned only through experience. Begin using this systematic approach to lead team members through the four phases of critical thinking. By doing so, you can help your team members develop one of today’s most in-demand skills.
Learning & Organization Development is offering the next Critical Thinking class on August 10th. You can register HERE.
Harvard Business Review (2019, October 11) Matt Plummer: A Short Guide to Building Your Team’s Critical Thinking Skills
MasterClass (2021, May 25) MasterClass staff: Guide to Critical Thinking: Learn to Use Critical Thinking Skills
Indeed (2021, June 9) Indeed Editorial Team: 6 Ways to Improve Critical Thinking at Work