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Archive for the ‘Creative Thinking’ Category

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

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Informational gathering processes are designed to assist leaders in asking questions that facilitate the thinking skills of observation and recall. Both observation and recall thinking skills are foundational to the collection and retention of specific facts.

When questioning to promote creative and critical thinking, it is important to use employees’ responses to guide subsequent questions within discussions and dialogues. Make sure to use predetermined formulated questions for dictating, channeling or directing employee responses.

Clues for posing appropriate and effective processing and probing questions are to be found in the responses given to the core questions that were asked. Because of this, leaders have to be adept listeners in order to ask appropriate processing questions that bring about quality responses.

There are seven different types of processing questions that can be used to generate higher levels of thinking. It is important to understand where and when to use each:

Refocusing Questions

Refocus questions are needed if employees are not doing enough in-depth thinking, or if are talking off the subject. To refocus employee responses, leaders may need to reacquaint them with what was said, and then restate the core question. It is important to provide specific examples when refocusing employees back onto a particular subject, idea or concept.

Clarifying Questions

Clarification is needed if responses are unclear, or if the leader feels that more appropriate language could be used to express the responder’s comment, opinion or idea. Applying clarifying questions is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Appropriate clarification questions help employees define words and bring meaning to their ideas. Most miscommunication and misunderstanding is caused by not clarifying words, thoughts, concepts or ideas accurately and appropriately.

Verifying Questions

Verifying questions provide opportunities to cite or give evidence for ideas or specific information. Responses tend to be based on personal experiences. When verifying information, it is important to state what authorities or experts say is true, and to use a principle or generalization to support the information.

Redirecting Questions

Redirecting questions are designed to enhance personal interactions. They should be asked as often as possible within topical discussions and investigative meetings, gatherings or sessions. Redirecting questions gain a variety of responses from different employees. Two ways to redirect thinking about something is to ask: “What is another (way…thing…idea) we can bring to light to discuss about this?” And, “Will someone else offer another idea or insight on this topic?”

Narrowing the Focus Questions

Narrow the focus questions are used to limit the content of what is discussed or talked about. They are based on the “content characteristics” or the concepts or ideas the leader plans to address, question and discuss.

Supporting Questions

Supporting questions should be asked in order to mentally link relationships between or among evidence and statements of inference, such as cause/effect and/or prediction. Supporting questions also provide opportunities to state reasons for groupings, labels, sequences and classifications.

Recall and Verification Questions

Verification is especially critical in recalling pieces of data, information or concepts. Verification is gathered both as part of the primary material covered, as well as outside of it, in the form of past experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations.

Verifying through experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations further extends an employee’s investigative skills by building additional evidence to support facts. When discussing specific facts of a particular concept or principle, the leader should ask several kinds of verifying questions so that employees become more enlightened by their understanding of the facts. For example, if an employee is asked the basic verification question, “How do you know ____?” and the employee responds, “Because I ____.” it is important to follow up with another verification question that asks, “Where did you find that information?”

Informational Gathering Processes

By providing employees the opportunity to practice observing and recalling, they will better understand the thinking skills and become more aware of the types of questions they need to ask themselves when encountering situations which call for gathering and retaining information. Situations that require the observing-thinking skill must be real and representational. While situations that require the recalling-thinking skill must include questions with words that cue recollection. This at first may seem unnecessary or unimportant, however, by using cueing words, the leader assists employees in understanding how they gathered the topical content.

It also enables employees to provide sound, verifiable evidence. For example, if a leader says: “Tell me about the work task you did yesterday,” employees can say how they felt about it, or talk about other tasks or assignments they liked. Further, by using the “cues” for recall, “What do you recall about your last assignment in terms of its importance?” the employee is more apt to speak directly to the details of the assignment and/or associated tasks.

Apply a Questioning Reflection Guide

There may come a time when a leader discovers that problems have surfaced when conducting a particular instructional session or meeting discussion with their employees. It may be a good policy (at least initially) to tape and transcribe at least a 5 or 10 minute interactive question and answer process. Then have another leader or peer critique the session and suggest ways to improve upon the question and answer process.

Specific things to listen for include the types of questions and sequence of questions that promote employee responses and thinking, and how to better utilize the responses. One other important thing to listen for is the pauses that occur during the “wait time” and the amount of time that passes between questions and responses.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Six Phases of Critical Thinking

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Critical thinking can be defined as “learning to think better by improving one’s thinking skills.” Individuals who are critical thinkers use the thinking process to analyze (consider and reflect) and synthesize (piece together) what they have learned or are currently learning. Unfortunately, much of everyone’s thinking tends to be biased, imprecise, unclear, uninformed or prejudiced. Since this becomes severely limiting, critical thinking is needed to improve its quality and value.

Within the organizational setting critical thinking is necessary for: overcoming problems, making changes, modifications or adaptations within work structures, methods and problem solving situations, resolving situational conflict and pressing issues, and inventing and implementing new ideas, techniques and solutions.

Critical thinking development is a gradual process. It requires: mastering plateaus of learning as well as maintaining a serious focus on the process itself, changing personal habits of thought, which tends to be a long-range project, and extensive development time.

Within the process of critical thinking it is important to recognize what does not comprise its basic elements or components. Critical thinking is not accomplished by: saying something without carefully thinking it through, taking a guess at what one thinks “should” be done, memorizing material to analyze, discuss or examine, doing something just because it has always been done, believing something because it is what everyone else tends to believe, or arguing about something when there are no facts to back up the argument.

Critical Thinking Qualities

There are certain qualities critical thinkers possess and these characteristics tend to categorize individuals as “deep thinkers,” which separates them from more typical “basic thinkers.” Critical thinkers tend to be self-disciplined, self-directed, self-monitored and self-corrective thinkers. They raise essential or crucial questions and problems and then proceed to formulate them clearly and precisely. Critical thinkers gather, assemble, evaluate and appraise relevant information. They come to well-reasoned deductions, conclusions and solutions, while measuring and testing them against relevant standards and criteria. They also keep an open mind within alternative systems of thought while continually recognizing and assessing their assumptions and lines of reasoning. Finally, critical thinkers communicate effectively with others in seeking out and determining solutions for challenges and problems.

There tends to be six developmental thinking phases that lead to “mastering” the art of critical thinking. Through extensive practice and applications of the process, individuals can expect to begin altering and eventually changing their individual habits of thought. Each progressive phase is described below.

Phase One: The Unenlightened Thinker — individuals generally are not consciously aware that significant problems do exist within their current patterns of thinking.

Phase Two: The Confronted Thinker — individuals are aware that existing problems are evident or apparent within their process of thinking.

Phase Three: The Novice Thinker — individuals try to initiate improvements within their thinking, but without relying on regular or consistent practice.

Phase Four: The Proactive Thinker — individuals do recognize the importance of regular practice to improve and enhance their thinking.

Phase Five: The Developed Thinker — individuals begin to advance in accordance with the amount of practice that is awarded to the process.

Phase Six: The Mastery Thinker — individuals become skilled and insightful, where reflective, analytical and evaluative thinking becomes second nature.

Individuals can only develop through these phases if they accept the fact that there are serious problems with their current processes and methods of thinking, and are able to accept the challenge that their thinking presents to them and make it a point to begin regular practice to improve and enhance the components and elements of critical thinking.

Critical Thinking Relies Upon Clarity of Purpose

In order to develop critical thinking, it is important for individuals to be clear as to the purpose of the task or topic at hand, and the main question that is at issue in regard to it. To accomplish this goal, it is essential to: strive to be clear, accurate, precise and relevant, practice thinking beneath the surface, be logical and fair-minded, apply critical thinking skills to all reading, writing, speaking and listening activities, and apply these skills to all aspects of work as well as life in general.

Questioning: The Impetus for Critical Thinking

Dead questions reflect dead minds. Unfortunately, most individuals, (even managers, leaders and trainers) tend not to ask many thought-stimulating types of questions. They tend to stick to dead questions like, “Is this going to be what is expected from now on?” or, “How are we supposed to understand (or do) this?” and other questions that outwardly imply the desire not to think.

Some managers, leaders, trainers or facilitators in turn are not themselves generators of in-depth questions and answers of their own making, which aids in establishing non-critical thinking environments. These individuals are not seriously engaged in thinking through or rethinking through their own initiatives, issues, concerns, topics or instructional concepts and resort to being mere purveyors of the “questions and answers of others.” They often end up initiating or responding to some initial concerns or issues that tend to surface spontaneously during a discussion or meeting, without having personal background information that would otherwise help stimulate deeper levels of creative probing and evaluative questioning. Sometimes they tend to apply second-hand information, knowledge or questions that have been passed down, which limits creative assessments and deeper level questioning. Often they find themselves referencing authors or others who are considered to be experts or leaders in their field rather than questioning important workplace-related issues, ideas, methods or concerns that need to be probed in-depth.

Questioning Through Critical Thinking Keeps the Organization Alive

Every company stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously. These questions are then used as the driving force for generating and implementing changes. To think through or rethink anything, individuals within an organization must ask questions that stimulate deeper levels of thought. Questions define tasks, express problems and identify issues. While answers on the other hand, often signal a full stop in thought. Only when answers generate further questions does thought continue to add value in terms of personal as well as organizational growth and change.

It is important to remember that individuals within an organization, who generate and ask serious and insightful questions, are the ones who are, in fact, truly thinking, developing and learning. It is possible to move an organization forward by just asking employees to list all of the questions that they have about an issue, method or topic, including all questions generated by their first list of questions. However, deep questions drive out thoughts that rest underneath the surface of things and force individuals to deal with complexity. While questions of purpose force individuals to define “their task,” questions of information force individuals to look at their source(s) of information as well as its quality.

Excerpt: Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Effective Problem Solving Requires A Systematic Approach

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Effective problem solving in a complex world and in times of uncertainty demands a systematic approach that allows managers to be fair and consistent in the solutions they create. As both customers and employees are placed under more and more pressure to produce, problem-solving skills take on a heightened significance.

Effective problem solving requires that managers use a systematic approach rather than their intuitive judgment alone. Studies have shown that managers make more accurate judgments when they use such an approach for resolving problems and making critical decisions.

Many of the problems managers must resolve involve customers and can impact their business. The use of a systematic problem solving approach ensures that managers will consider all aspects of the issue before making decisions. Additionally, an established system is more efficient and effective than spending hours in unorganized thought considering the dimensions of an issue and creating a possible solution.

As resolving issues requires a series of determinations to arrive at a successful conclusion, it follows that successful problem solving is not possible without effective decision making. When encountering a problem the following techniques should be utilized:

Identify Primary Issues

Often problems are stated in terms describing symptoms rather than root causes. It is a common pitfall for managers to react to these symptoms and take action to resolve them without identifying their underlying causes. To avoid this misstep, managers should stand back and examine the problem to identify actual causes and the degree of difficulty involved in resolving the issue.

Identification of the primary issue is key to the rest of the resolution process. If not properly identified, the manager can waste valuable time and resources on inapplicable solutions.

Frame the Problem

Framing is another word for structuring the problem. Once the preliminary issue has been identified, framing allows the manager to structure the problem in the proper context, identifying the resources and potential solutions that may need to be employed. It should be noted that how a problem is framed does create a bias toward one solution over another. For instance, in terms of accounts, compare, “How can this problem be solved without impacting my profitability?” to “How can this problem be resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction?” One solution is clearly customer focused while the other is internally focused. The solutions framed by both questions will produce markedly different results.

Gather Information

The third phase of problem solving is the gathering of facts and information to clearly define the extent of the problem and point to the causes. One pitfall managers must be cognizant of is not to discount information that challenges their perceptions and personal biases.

The key to information gathering is to go about it in a systematic manner that allows facts and data to be developed in an organized fashion.

Identify and Prioritize Potential Solutions

As information and data are organized, correlated and analyzed, a series of possible solutions should begin to emerge. When able, managers should use brainstorming techniques with all of the involved parties to identify several paths to take. At this point, limiting factors and other criteria should not be considered. The key is to flesh out ideas and concepts, group them and develop a final series of potential solutions to be considered.

Once the list of all potential solutions has been created, the manager should examine the feasibility of each in regard to time, cost, ease of use, satisfaction and any other important criteria. Solutions should then be ranked from best to worst.

Agree on Optimal Solution

The ideal solution is the one that is acceptable to all parties. The top one or two potential solutions should be considered and modified to meet the needs of all concerned. A win-lose solution may be expedient, but will create ill will in the long-term; as such, where possible it is always better to arrive at a win-win solution.

Assimilate Lessons

The final aspect of problem solving often overlooked by managers is the ability to assimilate the lessons learned from the situation and to refer back to those lessons when a similar problem arises.

Managers need to establish a system to learn from the results of their past decisions. This may require that they periodically spend several hours, once or twice a year, to review those decisions and their subsequent impact and ramifications on their business.

Excerpt: Problem Solving: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Decision-Making Begins When an Action Needs to Be Taken

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Six Critical Issues To Consider When Solving Problems

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Conflict Resolution: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Series

Intelligent Decision Making: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Planning to Maximize Performance: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Questions Should Mirror Employees’ Sense of Adventure, Interest and Curiosity

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Within the workplace leaders need to emphasize the importance of questioning, and can do this by welcoming all those “why” and “how” questions, and asking a lot of them personally as well. Routine, rigidity and tight boundaries tend to snuff out the questioning process before it begins to achieve any glimmer of light, hope or momentum.

Leaders need to be content with leaving many questions unanswered, and by so doing, create a collection of unknown working elements that offer evidence to the prominent place that curiosity holds within the organization. Leaders can use questions and answers to make the employees’ work life and environment curious and exciting. To do this, questions should mirror employees’ sense of adventure, interest and curiosity. Observing and questioning their world of work helps to establish an outstanding and superb sense of teamwork.

To Make Questions as Important as Answers Safeguard Employees Against Excessive Organizational Routines

Organizational cultures often hinder the attainment of positive workplace growth and development when they tend to allow, incorporate, or spread, a bland veneer of “sameness” or a status quo of “apathy” throughout the working environment and workplace landscape. Faced with a bland, dominated working landscape, it is up to leaders to find ways to liberate their employees from the continuous shaping of ideas, opinions and the peer pressure of “sameness.” Employees can be freed from these organizational culture constraints by becoming good questioners.

When employees are surrounded by leaders and supervisors who provide immediate, simplistic responses to all the questions they ask, a false impression is created that emphasizes, “Answers do not require serious thought or ingenuity.” Employees are prevented from observing firsthand just how initial questions spawn additional ones, which eventually lead to fresh answers. As a result, they tend to lose out on the opportunity to experience mind searching, analyzing and decision making.

Look at Questions and Answers as Part of an Uncompleted Puzzle

Working environments tend to present an endless supply of puzzles. The only problem is, many employees spend most of their time and lives avoiding puzzles and serious questions. Yet, if every question has a quick and easy answer, the purpose of inquiry is lost.

Puzzles within the mind tend to arouse a sense of curiosity and stimulate questioning. While some employees may be bewildered when first attempting to figure something out, good questions will start to break up their mental log jam and begin to unlock everyone’s frozen thinking, while at the same time, setting them on the path to greater understanding.

Puzzle avoidance leads to stagnation and a healthy organization keeps its employees’ heads out of the sand and tries to see what is coming in order to be prepared. A proactive group of employees learns to wrestle with difficult questions and predicaments rather than rely upon recipes and formulas, which may have worked in the past.

If leaders provide a continuous menu of workplace puzzles to decipher, employees will develop at a faster pace, feeling confident and resourceful in the process. Ingenuity and skill will grow faster and when confronted by a problem, quandary or an impossible situation, employees will less likely to be shaken or fearful. Over time, they will actually begin to greet dilemmas as a “challenge and a test of ingenuity.” However, at certain times it is important for leaders to make it a point to answer some questions, especially more complex or wide open ones, with an admission of ignorance or uncertainty.

There is no such thing as a  “right question” or “truly perfect sequence” to search out answers since effective questioning tends to require a certain amount of “mind mining” and “muddling around.” Tough questions are intended to invoke some trial-and-error reasoning engagement and outcomes.

Dilemmas, paradoxes and perplexities all deserve and require some “messy questioning” that is balanced by a degree of disciplined, logical inquiry. Thinkers who are able to “shift gears” from the right to left side of the brain, and back and forth between logic and license, will typically generate deeper and more workable insights.

Maintain a Focus on the Importance of Questioning

One of the goals leaders should have is to teach their employees how to find or fashion satisfying answers to work-related puzzles by learning to ask good questions in effective sequences and combinations. As part of their human nature, most employees will tend to seek stability, predictability and certainty in an uncertain world, instead of embracing the challenges associated with it. Instead of learning to use good questions to adapt and adjust to a changing world, they more often than not, adopt a “foxhole” mentality. However, without experience handling unanswerable questions, employees will not be prepared to deal with the riddles of work and life.

As a second goal, it is up to leaders to share a sense of wonderment at the vastness of “what is unknown.” In this regard, questions will often end up becoming a collection of segmented pieces and bits of inquiry whose answers are as confusing as individual puzzle pieces that have no frame or outline to place them into. The question becomes, “How can employees be motivated to relish the challenge to find complex or difficult answers and solutions and how well will they be able to deal with ambiguity?”

When leaders treasure and value the “mysterious and unknowable,” and extensively question things themselves, always seeking answers (even if certain solutions remain abstract, unreliable or unattainable) their employees will tend to become more prepared to deal with the puzzles of everyday situations, events, issues, as well as unforeseeable future occurrences.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning Techniques: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 19.95 USD

Related:

Making the Questions as Important as the Answers

Leaders Need to Focus on Questions Rather Than Offering Answers

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

For Additional Information the Author Recommends the Following Books:

Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series

Comprehensive Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

The Use and Application of Advanced Questioning: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Proper Use of Feedback Builds Consensus

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Productivity is enhanced and empowerment achieved when leaders solicit, then act upon employee feedback, ideas and concepts. Soliciting and acting upon feedback is the essence of leadership. The proper use of feedback allows leaders to build consensus among their employees and give them ownership of the ideas and concepts to be implemented within the organization.

There are critical differences between managers and leaders. Managers tend to direct and control without soliciting feedback and building employee consensus.

Leaders, on the other hand, build their strength from group consensus, acting as facilitator rather than controller. They understand the power and synergy of combining ideas and working together to achieve mutual goals.

The more involvement leaders seek from their employees, the easier it will be to implement new ideas, resolve nagging problems, minimize conflict and move the organization forward.

Leaders will find the more proficient they are in working with their employees and soliciting their input, the smoother things will run as many problems and headaches experienced in the past are eliminated.

The ideas and concepts created by employees during the feedback process can be easily implemented using the following techniques either in a group setting or individually.

Initiate Dialogue

The feedback process begins with the initiation of a dialogue between the leader and employee(s). This should include a clear and concise presentation of the problem or circumstance being addressed.

Whenever possible, a presentation of background material, including any and all supporting facts, should be included in order to afford employees a complete overview of the situation.

Research has shown that by providing employees with the complete information concerning a specific problem, they are more responsive, feel more involved and in the decision making process, and are more productive when the ideas are implemented.

Solicit Feedback

Once the dialogue has been initiated and the facts presented to the employees, the leader should solicit feedback from them and open the floor to discussion.

Respectfully Accept All Feedback

All ideas and feedback should be respectfully accepted and considered. One individual should be assigned to write the ideas down on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper for the group to see.

The leader should make sure no derogatory remarks are made as an individual presents an idea or gives their feedback. A failure to do so will further limit contributions from more reluctant members of the group. Leaders should solicit feedback from each individual in their group, even if they have to ask for it.

Group Similar Ideas & Concepts

Together with the members of the group, the leader should brainstorm to combine ideas and concepts. Often individuals communicate the same idea or concept, but in different ways.

The leader should facilitate the discussion and direct the grouping and combination of related ideas and concepts. They should make sure that the entire group agrees and is in consensus when performing these tasks.

Build on Ideas and Concepts

Once ideas and concepts have been combined, the leader should facilitate additional feedback and brainstorm ways to build and expand upon them. Leaders should make sure that all members of the group are involved and that their additional feedback is solicited. As new points are added and expanded upon, the group should always reach consensus before moving forward.

Prioritize

After adequate discussion has been concluded and the group has run out of new ideas, a consensus should be reached regarding prioritization of the refined ideas/concepts.

The basis for prioritizing each of the ideas should be that which best meets the criteria for resolving the problem or situation presented at the beginning of the discussion.

Assess Feasibility

Every organization has a limited amount of human, financial and physical resources. Leaders will find that the group will typically develop a number of ideas; however, available resources make it impossible to implement each of them. Therefore the group must determine which ideas are feasible under current organizational constraints. Remaining ideas can be tabled for further discussion when additional resources become available or after the initial ideas have been implemented.

Formulate a Plan

Once the final ideas have been selected, then under the leader’s direction the group should formulate a plan to implement them. A specific goal, timeline as well as individual responsibilities are assigned for every aspect of the plan. Additionally, a reporting and measurement mechanism should be included for overall accountability for the plan’s implementation.

Related:

Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

7 Ways to Use Change to Increase Performance

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Focusing Your Employees on Future Performance

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

January 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Looking into the Crystal Ball

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The events that have transpired over the years since the onset of the current recessionary cycle, underscore the turbulent times all organizations face. While uncertainty is troubling, the time of greatest organizational opportunity is found when the business environment is experiencing its greatest turbulence.

If one looks at when the greatest industrial giants started, it was during times of upheaval and turbulence. Greats like Rockefeller, Carnegie and J.P. Morgan emerged out of the shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. Companies like Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer and Microsoft emerged from the shift to an electronic society. This leap to greatness is made possible by the fact that during times of turbulence many of the traditional paradigms that govern business are shattered. Companies and whole markets begin to seek out new solutions to the problems brought about by the forces of change.

Creative thinking and decision-making can greatly enhance leaders’ success during turbulent times. Rather than mourn the loss of business or bemoan internal changes brought about by recessionary pressures or from intensified market competition, leaders begin seeking new opportunities that present themselves in the prevailing market conditions. One thing is certain: organizations are not going back to the business models that governed them prior to 2007. They are seeking new ways to enhance productivity and profitability, and therein lies the opportunity for any leader who wishes to seek it out. However, each should acknowledge that in times of turbulence, the ability to anticipate problems, situations and opportunities dramatically increases their chances of success.

If leaders wish to take advantage of the turbulence in their markets they must apply creative thinking skills that enhance their decision-making and enable them to step ‘outside the box.’ The resultant shift in thinking allows them to design and develop new solutions to address their workplace and organizational problems. It is also a necessary component for pinpointing available but oftentimes hidden opportunities. These demand a creative thinking process consisting of the following steps:

Related: Why New Ideas Trigger a Competitive Advantage?

Understanding Personal Influences

All leaders are influenced by their own impressions of reality. This creates a personal bias that shapes their perception of the present and future. Typically these perceptions are created from personal and professional past or recurring experiences. This is exemplified by military generals who plan for future wars and conflicts based on lessons learned from past engagements. The leaders that emerged from World War II—Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton—began as colonels and majors. The conflict gave them the ability to shine as leaders.

This highlights the crucial importance of managers transforming themselves into positive and effective leaders. More than ever, today’s leaders need to be driven by their zealous view of the possibilities held by the future, as defined by their vision. Leaders learn to rid themselves of their personal biases and look to what is possible and then actively, consistently and passionately work toward specific goals that will achieve it. In this way their perceptions of the past do not negatively influence their outlook on the future: this is where opportunity resides.

Once leaders understand that which impacts and influences their personal perceptions, they can take them into account as they anticipate the future. This allows them to actually step outside of their self-imposed limitations to see things in a creative light as never before—and to think and plan accordingly.

Related: The Value of Personal Experience and Expertise

Divergent Thinking

Leaders must apply divergent thinking skills to understand and discover more than one right answer to any problem. Included in this classification is the “what if” thinking scenario. Divergent thinking allows leaders to seek the possibilities and opportunities that present themselves. Additionally, polished divergent thinking skills allow leaders to remove the personal biases and perceptions that normally work to distort or eliminate creative possibilities. Doing this aids them in fully exploring all possibilities, thoughts and ideas from various perspectives and angles.

Related: You Keep Innovating if You Want to Keep Leading

Convergent Thinking

Once leaders have examined all of the possibilities available to them, they must use convergent thinking skills to focus on the integration of data and prioritize available choices. This is where leaders apply analysis skills to determine the economic feasibility of each choice and determine its impact and the ramifications upon the organization and workplace.

Related: The Importance of Intellectual Honesty

Mapping

Mapping, another word for planning, is the leader’s capacity to draw the pathways that show how he or she will get from the present to the future. In others words, it is the ability to formulate objectives that lead the organization toward the accomplishment of the overall goal or desired outcome.

Imaging

Imaging is the ability to draw visual pictures or representations using words, graphs, models or drawings to effectively communicate the vision and intended course of the organization. This allows a leader to effectively communicate his or her vision of its future direction and to highlight opportunities as they present themselves. It is vital that leaders present options, opportunities, ideas and pathways to the vision’s attainment in a way that can be easily understood by their employees and others.

Excerpt: Becoming a Leader of Your Own Making: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Seven Styles of Questioning That Sharpen Critical Thinking Skills

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Informational gathering processes are designed to assist leaders in asking questions that facilitate the thinking skills of observation and recall. Both observation and recall thinking skills are foundational to the collection and retention of specific facts.

When questioning to promote creative and critical thinking, it is important to use employees’ responses to guide subsequent questions within discussions and dialogues. Make sure to use predetermined formulated questions for dictating, channeling or directing employee responses.

Clues for posing appropriate and effective processing and probing questions are to be found in the responses given to the core questions that were asked. Because of this, leaders have to be adept listeners in order to ask appropriate processing questions that bring about quality responses.

There are seven different types of processing questions that can be used to generate higher levels of thinking. It is important to understand where and when to use each:

Refocusing Questions

Refocus questions are needed if employees are not doing enough in-depth thinking, or if are talking off the subject. To refocus employee responses, leaders may need to reacquaint them with what was said, and then restate the core question. It is important to provide specific examples when refocusing employees back onto a particular subject, idea or concept.

Clarifying Questions

Clarification is needed if responses are unclear, or if the leader feels that more appropriate language could be used to express the responder’s comment, opinion or idea. Applying clarifying questions is an excellent way to build vocabulary. Appropriate clarification questions help employees define words and bring meaning to their ideas. Most miscommunication and misunderstanding is caused by not clarifying words, thoughts, concepts or ideas accurately and appropriately.

Verifying Questions

Verifying questions provide opportunities to cite or give evidence for ideas or specific information. Responses tend to be based on personal experiences. When verifying information, it is important to state what authorities or experts say is true, and to use a principle or generalization to support the information.

Redirecting Questions

Redirecting questions are designed to enhance personal interactions. They should be asked as often as possible within topical discussions and investigative meetings, gatherings or sessions. Redirecting questions gain a variety of responses from different employees. Two ways to redirect thinking about something is to ask: “What is another (way…thing…idea) we can bring to light to discuss about this?” And, “Will someone else offer another idea or insight on this topic?”

Narrowing the Focus Questions

Narrow the focus questions are used to limit the content of what is discussed or talked about. They are based on the “content characteristics” or the concepts or ideas the leader plans to address, question and discuss.

Supporting Questions

Supporting questions should be asked in order to mentally link relationships between or among evidence and statements of inference, such as cause/effect and/or prediction. Supporting questions also provide opportunities to state reasons for groupings, labels, sequences and classifications.

Recall and Verification Questions

Verification is especially critical in recalling pieces of data, information or concepts. Verification is gathered both as part of the primary material covered, as well as outside of it, in the form of past experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations.

Verifying through experiences, authorities, principles and generalizations further extends an employee’s investigative skills by building additional evidence to support facts. When discussing specific facts of a particular concept or principle, the leader should ask several kinds of verifying questions so that employees become more enlightened by their understanding of the facts. For example, if an employee is asked the basic verification question, “How do you know ____?” and the employee responds, “Because I ____.” it is important to follow up with another verification question that asks, “Where did you find that information?”

Informational Gathering Processes

By providing employees the opportunity to practice observing and recalling, they will better understand the thinking skills and become more aware of the types of questions they need to ask themselves when encountering situations which call for gathering and retaining information. Situations that require the observing-thinking skill must be real and representational. While situations that require the recalling-thinking skill must include questions with words that cue recollection. This at first may seem unnecessary or unimportant, however, by using cueing words, the leader assists employees in understanding how they gathered the topical content.

It also enables employees to provide sound, verifiable evidence. For example, if a leader says: “Tell me about the work task you did yesterday,” employees can say how they felt about it, or talk about other tasks or assignments they liked. Further, by using the “cues” for recall, “What do you recall about your last assignment in terms of its importance?” the employee is more apt to speak directly to the details of the assignment and/or associated tasks.

Apply a Questioning Reflection Guide

There may come a time when a leader discovers that problems have surfaced when conducting a particular instructional session or meeting discussion with their employees. It may be a good policy (at least initially) to tape and transcribe at least a 5 or 10 minute interactive question and answer process. Then have another leader or peer critique the session and suggest ways to improve upon the question and answer process.

Specific things to listen for include the types of questions and sequence of questions that promote employee responses and thinking, and how to better utilize the responses. One other important thing to listen for is the pauses that occur during the “wait time” and the amount of time that passes between questions and responses.

Excerpt: Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about highly effective and advanced questioning techniques for use in the workplace, refer to Effective Questioning in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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