How to enable your team to think more Critically

What happens when a business proposal is tabled at a meeting, or when a new strategy or action plan is discussed, or when you have a competitive or industry review or when you are training your team?  As a new General Manager, are you happy with the depth of discussion that is created or do you feel that the information is treated quite superficially if its taken in at all.  In your new GM’s role internal training and development is critical and often becomes your responsibility, especially if the learning and practice is on the job.

Here’s a way in which you can guide your team members to a better understanding of the information and material you present.

Its not about whether people have read the proposals or reviews, but what they have learned from them. But just reviewing the facts of the case can inhibit creative thinking from taking place.

It’s been my experience that one all-important factor is key in the successful meeting: your team tends to read and think based on the kinds of questions they anticipate receiving from you. If your team members are questioned just on the facts of the discussion then this requires only low levels of intellectual involvement (or no involvement whatsoever), they will tend to think accordingly. Conversely, team members who are encouraged to think on higher levels  will tend to think more creatively and divergently.

Many years ago, an educator named Benjamin Bloom developed a classification system we now refer to as Bloom’s Taxonomy to assist people in recognizing their various levels of question-asking (among other things). The system contains six levels, which are arranged in hierarchical order, moving from the lowest level of cognition (thinking) to the highest level of cognition (or from the least complex to the most complex):

Blooms Taxonomy

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation

Blooms Taxonomy

In the meetings I’ve been at Managers tend to overused  knowledge and comprehension types of questions.

Knowledge

This is the lowest level of questions and requires people to recall information. Knowledge questions usually require identification of information in basically the same form it was presented. Some examples of knowledge questions include …

  • “What is the biggest market for this SKU?”
  • “Who developed this strategy?
  • “How many of this SKU can we produce in a day?”

Words often used in knowledge questions include know, who, define, what, name, where, list, and when.

Here’s a tip for when you are making a presentation of training your team – never end a presentation by asking, “Are there any questions?” This is the surest way to turn off your people. Instead, say something like, “Take five minutes and write down two questions you have about the lesson. Share those questions and discuss possible answers with a partner. and then if you both think the question is worthwhile lets discuss the question further”

Comprehension

Simply stated, comprehension is the way in which ideas are organized into categories. Comprehension questions are those that ask your team members to take several bits of information and put them into a single category or grouping. These questions go beyond simple recall and require combination of data together. Some examples of comprehension questions include …

  • “How would you illustrate the purchasing cycle?”
  • “What is the main idea of this plan?”
  • “If I put these three ideas together, what strategy do they form?”

Words often used in comprehension questions include describe, use your own words, outline, explain, discuss, and compare.

Application

At this level, you ask your team to take information they already know and apply it to a new situation. In other words, they must use their knowledge to determine a correct response. Some examples of application questions include …

  • “How would you use your knowledge of costs and demand to create an efficient production schedule?”
  • “What happens when you increase demand for this SKU by 20%?”

Words often used in application questions include apply, manipulate, put to use, employ, dramatizedemonstrate, interpret, and choose.

Definition; In analysis, you move from the whole to the parts. In synthesis, you move from the parts to the whole. Depending on your approach you may create different perspectives

Analysis

An analysis question is one that asks to break down something into its component parts. To analyze requires people to identify reasons, causes, or motives and reach conclusions or generalizations. Some examples of analysis questions include …

  • “What are some of the factors that cause a reduction in demand?”
  • “Why did the our competitor launch this product in this market?”

Words often used in analysis questions include analyze, why, take apart, diagram, draw conclusions, simplify, distinguish, andsurvey.

Synthesis

Synthesis questions challenge your team members to engage in creative and original thinking. These questions invite them to produce original ideas and solve problems. There’s always a variety of potential responses to synthesis questions. Some examples of synthesis questions include …

  • “How would you change the production schedules to maximize production and reduce costs?”
  • “How would our strategy be different if we only have one factory in ASEAN?”

Words often used in synthesis questions include compose, construct, design, revise, create, formulate, produce, and plan.

Evaluation

Evaluation requires an individual to make a judgment about something. We are asked to judge the value of an idea, a candidate,  or a solution to a problem. When people are engaged in decision-making and problem-solving, they should be thinking at this level. Evaluation questions do not have single right answers. Some examples of evaluation questions include …

  • “What do you think about your work so far?”
  • “Which creative approach did you like the best?”
  • “Do you think that the Agency did the right thing in their approach?”

Words often used in evaluation questions include judge, rate, assess, evaluate, What is the best …, value, criticize, and compare.

Bloom and Powerpoint

What does all this mean? Whether in training or in a meeting, it means you should ask your team members several different kinds of questions. If you only focus on knowledge-based questions as assess whether they understood your training, then they may think that learning (a specific topic) is nothing more than the ability to memorize a select number of facts.

Perhaps most important, your team members, once exposed to this type of questioning will tend to read and think based on the types of questions they anticipate receiving from you. In other words, they will tend to approach any subject as a knowledge-based subject if they are presented with an overabundance of knowledge-level questions throughout a meeting. On the other hand, they will tend to approach a topic at higher levels of thinking if they are presented with an abundance of questions at higher levels of thinking.

And while you may this this post is overly teacherly (it is as I a doing some research on how better to communicate with people attending my courses) in our business we are teachers as well as managers in helping and assisting our team members to develop.