Janellis has completed a series of Critical Thinking Labs with executives from a broad range of industries. In these interactive and experiential workshops, we found there is consensus across all sectors for improved decision-making at all levels within the organisation. The reason is some individuals and teams are:
- “too quick to make decisions without considering the facts and/or impacts”
- “too slow to make decisions and with poor judgement”
- “making decisions with bias, limited structure or rigor”
Many organisations want to become more adaptive and to embed an ‘agile’ culture. This relies on effective decision-making at all layers within the organisation.
A broad spectrum of skills underpin good decision-making including the ability to ‘cut through’ by: analysing, verifying and clarifying. Imagining, perceiving and collaborating are core skills. While synthesising, prioritising, planning and communicating are the essential elements of good decision making.
Many of these skills are considered ‘Critical Thinking’ skills. Not surprisingly, it is usually the executive leaders within the organisation who have honed these skills through intuition and experience.
There is a need to build these skills across the organisation more broadly. After all, “a company’s strategy is the sum of decisions it effectively makes and executes over time”. This needs to happen at all layers on a day-to-day basis, not just for the executive-led decisions.
Recently we have been asked the following questions:
How can we simplify the decision-making process? How can we speed it up? How can we provide more rigor? How can we improve decision-making at all levels within the organisation?
Janellis has developed a Decision Support Tool. For more than ten years, senior leaders have used the tool to navigate through some of their most complex challenges. Most teams like the simplicity and structure but others don’t like the words ‘tool’, process or framework as they feel they already have enough of these within their organisation.
For those who don’t want another framework or ‘tool’ we have summarised the ten key questions that drive better decision-making. These questions assume that an individual is making a decision or leading the discussion with the right people present.
10 key questions are:
- What are the facts?
- What are the assumptions?
- What is the main issue / opportunity?
- Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the most likely outcome?
- Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the worst-case scenario?
- Based on the main issue / opportunity, what is the best-case scenario?
- Based on these scenarios what are the likely impacts across the key areas of the organisation? i.e. People, Finance, Customers, Strategy, etc.
- What do we need to do now and what do we need to do later?
- Who are all the key stakeholders that we need to communicate with?
- How, who and when will we communicate?
These steps may seem obvious and simplistic but debating the facts and assumptions is essential to cutting through to the main issue, particularly where there is incomplete or conflicting information. Data is an important part of getting to the facts and should be used to inform and support decision-making but not dictate it. Challenging assumptions can highlight conscious and unconscious bias at the same time as drawing upon intuition and experience. The importance of this step cannot be overstated as the rest of the decision-making is often underpinned by how well this is done.
We consider all steps in our process as Critical Thinking, but in their purest form some of the key steps include Creative Thinking. In his book Think Better Tim, Hurson says:
“The overarching principle of productive thinking is that creative thinking and critical thinking have to separate. The productive thinking dynamic is the ongoing alternation between critical thinking and creative thinking. Imagine a kayak paddle. One side stands for creative thinking and the other critical. If you always use the creative thinking paddle you will go around in circles. If you use the critical paddle you go in circles the other way.
The key is to alternate between the two. That way you develop enormous forward momentum.”
When following the steps in a group situation, it becomes clear who is more inclined towards Creative Thinking or Critical Thinking. Bringing a team together who have diversity of thought and experience, allows them to ‘toggle’ between Critical and Creative Thinking in a way that creates momentum and produces more robust decision-making.
The benefit of using the framework is it provides rigor for the individual or teams to ‘stay within the process’. This is particularly valuable where there are personal preferences and inclinations to stay too long in either the Creative or Critical Thinking phase, running the risk of ‘going around in circles‘.
If you would like to learn more about Critical Thinking, sign up to our upcoming Virtual Lab to see how it’s used.
We recently held our first ‘open’ Critical Thinking Lab, which was attended by executives from industries including; banking and finance; energy; utilities; construction and telecommunications.
The executives who participated in the Lab all expressed the need for improved decision-making in their organisations, as some individuals and teams are:
- “Too quick to make decisions without considering the facts and/or impacts.”
- “Too slow to make decisions and with poor judgement.”
- “Making decisions with bias, limited structure or rigor.”
A broad range of skills underpin good decision-making including the ability to ‘cut through’ by analysing, verifying and clarifying. Problem solving, imagining, perceiving and collaborating, synthesising, prioritising, planning and communicating are also essential elements of good decision-making.
Many of these skills are considered ‘critical thinking’ skills and not surprisingly, it is usually the executive leaders within the organisation who have honed these skills through intuition and experience.
The opportunity is to build these skills across the organisation more broadly as “a company’s strategy is the sum of decisions it effectively makes and executes over time” and this needs to happen at all layers on a day-day basis, not just for the executive-led decisions.
To address the issue of building capability more broadly across the organisation, participants were given insights and case study examples of how executive leaders are enabling team-based critical thinking within their organisation through:
- More structure and rigor to the decision-making process particularly at ‘critical decision points’.
- Using a framework that draws on a diverse group of expertise and deeper levels of thinking.
- Greater collaboration in solving a complex problem.
One executive shared a real scenario facing an organisation in the banking and finance sector. The participants stress-tested the current thinking on the problem and opportunity and provide a more objective and robust perspective. The team clarified the facts, assumptions and the ‘main issue’ and generated new ideas, drawing upon the expertise in the room.
The feedback about the Lab included the following:
“It was fascinating to experience a group of people from diverse organisational cultures using the framework to tackle the same problem.”
“In less than 90 mins we arrived at some of the same conclusions as many months of internal review.”
“A high calibre event with good diversity of sectors/verticals.”
If you’d like to attend or you would like more information on a customised critical thinking lab, please contact info@Janellis.com.au or visit our register on our Events page.
In my last article on Using Scenario Planning to Build an Adaptive Capacity, I mentioned the research we undertook with executives about Building Resilience within Critical Infrastructure and The Value of Change Management in Executing Strategy.
Our research found that, for some organisations, there has been a convergence of issues such as:
- A resilient organisation has been described as one that has an adaptive capacity to deal with change and;
- Organisations looking to improve the Change Management aspects of executing strategy are seeking to build greater resilience in their people, specifically in leading and responding well to change.
Developing ‘critical thinking’ within teams
One of the main approaches Janellis takes in helping organisations build their resilience and adaptive capacity is to enhance and develop Critical Thinking Skills. The tool we use to embed and enable team-based critical thinking is our Executive Decision Support Tool.
The tool has been designed to enable critical thinking during times of high pressure and scrutiny to:
- Cut through conflicting or incomplete information.
- Understand priorities.
- Assess impacts across key areas.
- Make decisions.
- Allocate tasks and communicate effectively to a full range of identified stakeholders.
The tool allows teams to be agile and adaptive and to demonstrate resilience in the face of rapid and disruptive change.
Teams who have been using the tool for many years have intuitively used this capability in other areas such as running major transformation projects, steering committee meetings and responding to significant regulatory changes.
Most successful leaders already follow this critical thinking process in an intuitive way, on a personal level. Using the tool enables critical thinking capability to be developed more broadly in a collective way, that draws upon the diverse views and experiences within the team or organisation.
The benefits in using an Executive Decision Support Tool are:
- Helping teams through critical decision points in establishing the strategic direction or within projects being planned or underway.
- Providing more rigor for steering committee members to help uncover issues, confirm priorities, guide decision-making and enhance stakeholder engagement.
- Uncovering blind spots to respond effectively to all types of risks including those that are strategic or slow burn.
- Enabling a strong risk-based culture through a more thorough evaluation process of key impacts.
The tool can be used at any level within the organisation to uplift critical thinking capability and to accelerate the development of emerging leaders.
Critical thinking enables leaders to understand the impact of their decisions and helps create alignment and accountability for results.
For more information on the tool, the research or our Critical Thinking Hub please email firstname.lastname@example.org.