Recently we worked with an executive leadership team to help build their capability to respond to a range of known and unknown risks that the organisation faces.

As with most leadership teams we work with, they already have an impressive and diverse range of skills and experiences. The session highlighted, that leadership styles may be unique and risks between organisations varied but the majority of executive leaders already demonstrate strong critical thinking capabilities.

 

Some leaders demonstrate their critical thinking skills in very direct and overt ways, clearly ‘cutting through’ to identify the key issues and making strong decisions. Others do this in more collaborative and subtle ways but; the majority of executive leaders and emerging leaders have critical thinking as a core competency.

 

Shared critical thinking 

One of the challenges facing leaders who find their organisations in a crisis ‘scenario’ or real event is that their individual and collective critical thinking skills are put to the test.

Time is a key factor and information is often incomplete and key decisions need to be made under pressure. If an event has involved the media, often there is added pressure with a high degree of misinformation as well as vital information that needs to be verified. Teamwork and leadership are essential, and success relies on all members of the team operating effectively.

Some executives move from ‘business as usual’ into ‘crisis’ mode seamlessly and are able to operate intuitively and effectively, others feel like they have “a blank sheet of paper”, not sure how to blend their own style or approach into these high pressure and usually high-stakes situations.

Tools to enable critical thinking 

To enable all members of the team to be effective under pressure we coach teams using the decision support tool which facilitates ‘shared critical thinking’.

Key elements include: identifying the facts and the assumptions of a situation; agreeing on the ‘main issue’; understanding the impacts across the organisation and considering a ‘most likely’ and ‘worst’ case perspective; prioritising, making decisions and developing an effective communications and response strategy.

The tools enable the team to challenge assumptions, to ask the right questions and to hypothesise in a unified way that draws upon their combined experiences, to develop the best possible response strategies. 

The value of critical thinking more broadly 

As the maturity in capability builds at the executive level it becomes clear that the effectiveness of the crisis management team is very likely to be dependent on individual and shared critical thinking capabilities of others within the organisation.

The decision support tool is particularly valuable for teams where the critical thinking skills are not yet ‘honed’ but where the discipline of verifying information, understanding consequences and developing solutions is essential.

The skills required and the capability to respond to the high impact events are also valuable for threat identification, risk management and strategic planning.  Robust decision-making during ‘business-as-usual’ can avoid a crisis and can support teams in achieving the strategic objectives.

Within the decision-making spectrum, teams may go through ‘critical decision points’ and failing to get through these decision points, can put the organisation on the wrong trajectory which could lead to loss of life, loss of assets, reputational damage and irreparable financial and strategic consequences.

The full value of embedding good decision making is realised when team-based critical thinking is occurring at the strategic and tactical level across the whole organisation and across the whole spectrum of decision making.

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Shared critical thinking will be a challenge for any team in a crisis situation and access to tools creates alignment, builds confidence and provides assurance to key stakeholders.

A company’s strategy is the sum of the decisions it makes and executes over time and good decision-making needs to happen at all layers of the organisation on a day to day basis, not just for the big decisions made by a small number of people.