There’s a tendency among business owners and managers to supply answers to team members rather than take time to help them find the answers for which they’re looking.
The prevailing belief is this saves time, and it might in the short term. But over the long run, this approach costs time, weakens the business and adds to your responsibilities as your team remains dependent on you for solutions.
Business owners and managers frequently ask me: “How do you teach people to think?” This is a powerful question, one that can lead to significantly improved results.
The answer: Learn to become a mentor and effective communicator and consistently encourage team members to think for themselves. If you want your company to operate at the highest levels, your team members must be taught it’s acceptable — and then continually encouraged — to think their way through situations rather than rely on you and others for answers or guess at solutions.
Thinking is a process of evaluating a situation and then exploring possible actions that will lead to a solution or desired outcome.
How do you effectively communicate to encourage people to think for themselves?
Begin by creating a safe environment for your team members to ask questions. This requires composure — not becoming angry, condescending, demeaning, disappointed, frustrated or judgmental as you work together toward a solution. Team members must feel safe to expose what they don’t know as they work with and learn from you.
People who don’t feel safe asking questions will often guess what action to take — or take no action at all. This leads to errors that can ripple through business operations. Accounts aren’t handled effectively, time and resources are wasted, customers become disgruntled and business suffers. This in turn will result in more time and resources spent to repair errors and relationships with customers.
Encourage team members to come to you with questions rather than guessing about the correct course of action. Help team members realize there’s strength in tapping available resources to learn and find solutions.
Here’s a critical component to your success: Rather than simply telling your team members the correct answers, take time to work with them to explore the situation. Ask them open-ended questions. This will allow everyone involved to develop greater clarity as you work together for a solution.
Ask team members what possible solutions they see. Continue asking open-ended questions to fully draw out their perspectives. If their perception of the situation isn’t accurate, ask additional questions to help them deduce the best possible solution or send them in the direction of information that holds the solution.
Finally, have them teach you what they learned. This will let you know whether or not more work is needed and also help them to further ingrain what they’ve learned.
Over time, you’ll discover how to best mentor each individual, and team members will learn they can collaborate with you to improve their abilities to make sound decisions.
This strengthens the bond between you and your team. In addition, your team will become more competent, fewer errors will be made and the company will deliver a far better experience to customers.
Keep in mind most people have been conditioned to rely on others for answers instead of learning to think for themselves. They fall back on a lifetime of experiences in which they were told who to be, what to do and how to think. When this conditioning is understood and overcome, individuals access more of their potential and perform at higher levels.
You have a choice to make about developing team members: either increase their dependency on you for solutions or empower them to find solutions on their own.
When you invest in your team members and their ability to think their way through a situation to find the solution, you’re helping them empower themselves. This grows their abilities, lessens their dependence on you, strengthens your business from within and improves your company’s performance.