The term Culture of Thinking refers to a workplace where both individual and groupthink is valued, visible and actively promoted as 'the way we work around here'. Have you ever been part of a work team where you have felt thinking was genuinely valued? Have you been part of a team that created physical space to think, meeting structures that promoted thinking? Despite large and relentless mountains of work to-do, cultures of thinking are successful at prioritising thinking as the secret sauce that drives innovation, effectiveness, engagement, learning, capability, problem-solving and ultimately your team's level of performance.
As I write this post, the date is the 7th of April 2020. Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is spreading the world, causing serious illness and in some cases death. Large numbers of business teams have been stood down or have reduced capacity. Communities are going into lock-down. Business teams are working almost exclusively from home. As an executive coach and psychologist, you can imagine the coaching conversations thus far. Much of people's attention is on focusing on the here and now, survival plans, cost cutting, salvaging, maintaining a sense of value (or existence). Anxiety is high. Yet I also hear that flicker of hope in our conversations. Whilst what we are dealing with today and tomorrow is confronting, the human spirit is a wonderful thing. I hear leaders talk about the future. I hear leaders facing the brutal facts, yet looking for the silver lining.
Could a Culture of Thinking be your silver lining? Could your team shift from a pressured culture of 'doing and consequences' to a culture of 'thinking, learning and positive action'? Many leaders were already frustrated with teams doing but not thinking. Acting but not mindfully aware of commercial impact. I believe this massive change in the landscape of working will promote authenticity. Even in the last 3 or 4 weeks living in a COVID-19 world, there are already really positive cultural signs where individual and groupthink are valued. Leaders are connecting with there teams and each other in ways they never have before. I am hearing leaders and teams are flourishing with this new connection.
So how can you actively promote a culture of thinking wit your team? Ron Ritchhart, Senior researcher at Harvard Project Zero and fellow at the University of Melbourne, is considered a leading expert in this area. Ron's work primarily focuses on building a culture of thinking in our schools. He talks about the 8 forces necessary to shape a culture of thinking:
Expectations - Leaders can adopt the expectation that learning in itself is an expectation of performance. Leaders and teams can openly discuss the kinds of thinking necessary for success.
Language - Through language, leaders can notice, name and draw attention to the thinking and ideas that are important in any working objective.
Time - Giving individuals and teams time to think actually helps achieve working gals faster and more efficiently. Leaders and teams can consider where valuable thinking time would make a difference.
Modeling - Leaders can model their own thinking. Show teams your thought process, thew questions you asked yourself, the way you broke it down and worked through it. Make thinking visible so others can learn from your thinking.
Opportunities - Work structures like 'meetings', KPI's and weekly objectives can reinforce a work orientation rather than a learning orientation. Leaders and teams can look for opportunities to bring a culture of thinking to your virtual meetings. Leaders could see opportunities to be collaborative in goal-setting rather than directive. Get creative to facilitate the opportunity for learning and thinking experiences.
Routines - Teams must establish thinking routines. Weekly routines. Meeting routines. Project routines. Your teams routines must offer team members known structures that facilitate great thinking. For example, "SEE-THINK-DO" where the team discussed what they are seeing at the moment, the thinking that that has prompted, and a discussion about what actions we could do as a result.
Interactions - Nothing speaks louder in a culture of thinking than the nature of the interactions within it. Listening, questioning, observation, curiosity, sharing perspectives are all alive and well in healthy cultures of thinking.
Environment - Many workplaces have already made some progress in this area. We know the physical space we work in promotes culture and thinking. However, as teams now work from home, it is healthy to talk about things we could do to maximise the environment for effective thinking. Being perched up on the dining table, with a screaming toddler running around in the background, may not be most conducive to a culture of thinking. Over time, working with the situation we find ourselves in, how can we maximise our environments for greater quality thinking?
As leaders and teams move through this COVID-19 experience, give a little though to these 3 questions:
Question 1: What are you seeing out there in regards to the ways individuals and teams are contributing to groupthink?
Question 2: What examples of thinking would you love your team to have post-COVID-19?
Question 3: What could you do to promote thinking in a virtual world?
Looking forward to having more conversations about the future of thinking in your team and your working culture.
Written by Dr Cory Middleton