Can You Teach Your Team to Think Critically?

Hi guys, Diane here.

Today I want to talk about a divisive topic amongst managers and business owners. It’s about critical thinking, and if and how you can teach your team to think critically.

The other day, a friend and I were talking about the hiring dilemma: how difficult it is to find good people for your team and how long it truly takes to get them up-to-speed so that you can transition work over to them where they are owning that entire task.

We eventually got to the topic of critical thinking, and all those times where you’ve thought about a person or people on your team: why couldn’t they just put it together? Didn’t they know what the outcome needed to be, or what it should be? Did this look right to them?

It’s all a question of whether they were able to see and connect the dots across the entire task. Many people don’t think you can teach people to think critically or have analytical skills. It’s a divisive topic among managers and business owners. Some think it’s an innate skill set, others attribute it to being developed over time.

And yes, there are certain hallmarks of critical thinkers, like being able to work independently or completing a task in an ambiguous environment. Nevertheless, the other component that’s incredibly important to us is being able to “connect the dots’ – those are the pieces that I think you can teach your team to do. I’ve done it with my team members, and today, I’m going to show you exactly how I did it.

So, how do you teach your team how to think critically?

This all comes down to having guidelines, in addition to your standard operating procedures (SOPs), which should teach your team how to do a task. These would be guidelines that you can create that tells them to analyze any number of things before approaching the project, and even before turning it in as well.

I usually break this down into two different categories: the things I want the person/team to think about when I transition a task or project over (i.e., how to approach it), and then the things I want you to review and think about before you submit it back to me for review.

This way, when the person/team transitions to a task, they immediately take stock of the available resources and what’s expected of them. Plus, having these guidelines lets them know where to go to figure out what the next step is, and what the task should be.

All of these things can be taught. You can tell someone how to find these things before actually turning things in to you. In other words, here are the 5 or 10 things I want you to think about as you wrap this task up.

For example, let’s go with visual formatting.

  • Does this look right?
  • Are there obvious typing errors?
  • Or even simpler, is it all on the wrong template?

Broad things along those lines. And then I have a series of questions that I ask my team, things I would ask myself as I’m reviewing. Think of the questions you ask yourself as you review submissions and then hand those questions over to them.

Typically you may ask something like:

  • Does this answer the problem or challenge for the assigned task?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What can I recommend for improvement?
  • What are the challenges that they will encounter going forward if they were to implement this suggestion?
  • What might they face during the next step?

And, it doesn’t have to be a full-on report, either – it could just be a couple of sentences in an email when your team members are turning something in; that’s often how I have my team do it. These initial thoughts processes get them to start thinking critically before, during, and after each assignment. Because, when you think about your experience and your ability to think critically, I bet you had some people who pushed you pretty hard to think and look at tasks a certain way. To find the answer for yourself. I know I did, and I was very fortunate to have had those people in my career who pushed me to the very edge in terms of try figuring it out myself.

The next step in the process is to create guidelines that not only teach them how to do the work but also the additional soft skills – the things that might not be in the step-by-step documentation on how to do the work.

Now that they have the whole package, an optional step that you can throw in there is for them to complete a submission project. Again, this doesn’t have to be a drawn-out project. Something I’ve done in the past is have my team document the actual process for me – as in, describe how you did it and what the workflows were. That’s a way for them to cement what the process is for themselves, too. And then, what’s the outcome? What are the recommendations?

Those are ways for them to think critically about the work they’re producing. And that’s part of their understanding of how to do the work. And then, finally, is just to let it all go.

Give your team a chance to be critical thinkers

You have to give it to your team to be able to execute because they might not know all of the answers, but the only way for them to develop critical thinking skills is to experience it so that they can begin to develop that sense of intuition of how to put it together themselves. 

If you never give them those opportunities, they will never really progress any farther than the box you’ve put them in. So, to teach your team how to think critically and how to put the dots together for you, the first thing you have to do is have clear SOPs that tell them how to do the work. Then, have accompanying guidelines that tell them all the extra details and soft skills and thinking pieces that might not be clear from the instruction-heavy SOP. Next, you can have an optional submission project, which basically summarizes everything they’ve done. And finally, just let go. Allow your team to impress you. More often than not, you’re going to find that they do. 

Does this resonate with you? What do you think about being able to teach people how to critically reason and figure things out on their own. If it does resonate, feel free to drop me a comment down below. I would love to hear what you have to say and I’m always happy to brainstorm and share my feedback with you guys. 

Until next time,


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