We never speak of leadership outside of the context of an organisation or team. It is a sine qua non that without followers there is no need for leadership and therefore no need for a leader.

However, it is also true that the leadership can only be as good as the team allows it to be. And the team is composed, designed, developed and motivated by the leadership. Or should be. It is this symbiotic relationship that either makes magic; or results in disaster.

Essential to this process of empowering each other is for the leaders to cultivate critical thinking skills at all levels in the organisation and to build enthusiasm around this imperative. The whole concept of the design thinking process is built around the capability to think critically in a collaborative way. The more people can think critically together about their circumstances and their future, the richer will be the outcome when design thinking processes are put to work in the organisation.

Thinking critically does not mean thinking judgmentally. Indeed, the opposite is probably the more likely outcome. Critical thinking is designed to consider carefully, critically, new and different positive outcomes available to a team or organisation. It was created for innovation and newness and not for in-depth discussion and criticism of what happened in history.

For critical thinking to be part of the DNA of an organisation these initiatives should occur regularly, at least bi-monthly, for them to have any impact. Each session should have a clear focus and endeavour to create a desire for ongoing discussion after the formal session. This is the essence of a thinking, learning organisation. The biggest danger is to slip into a rut where anything outside of the norm is seen as counter-productive and disruptive. Well, change is, and should be, disruptive…in a positive way. For it to be properly effective the involvement and engagement of all is essential.

The real value for an organisation, no matter the size, is to make sure that this process permeates and percolates through the entire organisational community. It needs to become the mind-set of everyone.

At the heart of creating a thinking community is to encourage everyone to question the value and validity of everything the organisation does. This must be done with a positive mindset. A mindset which starts with asking how and what must we do to be the very best that we can be. Teaching people not to accept any one solution as the alpha and omega should be part of the mindset.

One of the most overlooked and poorly utilised processes in almost all organisations is the function of induction, and in some cases, it is not used at all.  This is to the detriment of the organisation because when the new employee enters the workplace ill-prepared and confused everyone loses!

This is arguably the most important opportunity to fully prepare and equip the new person to do the job at the very best level possible; and to let them absorb the culture of the organisation including its critical thinking mindset. The process does not, or should not, only apply to new entrants to the workplace, but to anyone changing positions in the organisation. At any level. Managers and leaders often focus down the organisation and forget to pay attention to themselves and people at their level as well. If we really want critical thinking at all levels then we must make sure that we equip everyone to do this properly at all levels.

A last word on the topic: This process applies as much to each of us as individuals as it does to an organisation. For us to keep growing, to remain alive and vital members of society we should keep travelling the adventure of discovery that we so enjoyed and was at the heart of our development as little kids!

Change is not going to stop anytime soon!  The drama, size and speed with which change happens seems to be accelerating. We must adopt the new change habits we acquire and need, as part of the critical-comfort-zone habit portfolio, both as individuals and as organisations.        Thinking critically about the environment we live in, the behaviours that permeate it and the opportunities to change for the better must form part of this adventure of change and renewal.

Tony Frost