Digital technology is a powerful enabler for collaborative critical thinking particularly where teams are mobile and need to make high-stakes decisions, often with very little notice and under time pressure.
Last month I was working with an executive leadership team to help build their capability to respond to a range of known and unknown risks that the organisation face.
As with most leadership teams we work with, they already have an impressive and diverse range of skills and experiences. The session again highlighted, that leadership styles may be unique and risks between organisations varied but the majority of executive leaders already have strong critical thinking capabilities.
Some leaders demonstrate their critical thinking skills in very direct and overt ways, clearly ‘cutting through’ to identify the key issues and making strong decisions. Others do this in more collaborative and subtle ways but; the majority of executive leaders and emerging leaders have critical thinking as a core competency.
Shared critical thinking
One of the challenges facing leaders who find their organisations in a crisis ‘scenario’ or real event is that their individual and collective critical thinking skills are put to the test.
Time is a key factor and information is often incomplete and key decisions need to be made under pressure. If an event has involved the media, often there is added pressure with a high degree of mis-information as well as vital information that needs to be verified. Teamwork and leadership are essential and success relies on all members of the team operating effectively.
Some executives move from ‘business as usual’ into ‘crisis’ mode seamlessly and are able to operate intuitively and effectively, others feel like they have “a blank sheet of paper”, not sure how to blend their own style or approach into these high pressure and usually high-stakes situations.
Tools to enable critical thinking
To enable all members of the team to be effective under pressure we coach teams using a decision support tool that facilitates ‘shared critical thinking’.
Key elements include: identifying the facts and the assumptions of a situation; evaluating the information as a team; understanding the impacts across the organisation and considering a ‘most likely’ and ‘worst’ case perspective; prioritising, making decisions and developing an effective response strategy.
The tools enable the team to challenge assumptions, to ask the right questions and to hypothesise in a unified way that draws upon their combined experiences , to develop the best possible response strategies.
Embedding critical thinking using digital technologies
Whilst the concept of shared critical thinking is not new for Janellis we have recently taken our tools on-line and are training executive teams using a digital solution. Teams are coached using ‘experiential’ style training and this provides clarity on what critical thinking is, how to build it and how to measure it.
Having the the tools available in a digital format allows for a more interactive, dynamic and robust exchange of ideas in ‘real time’ as new information becomes available. The team can review their progress and produce a ‘common operating picture’ that reflects their shared understanding of the situation, its impacts across the organisation and their agreed strategies.
The value of critical thinking more broadly
As the maturity in capability builds at the executive level it becomes clear that the effectiveness of the crisis management team is very likely to be dependant on individual and shared critical thinking capabilities of others within the organisation. The tool is particularly valuable for teams where the critical thinking skills are not yet ‘honed’ but where the discipline of verifying information, understanding consequences and developing solutions is essential.
Shared critical thinking will be a challenge for any team in a crisis situation and access to the tools creates alignment, builds confidence and provides assurance to key stakeholders.