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Feb252013

Developing Critical Team Thinking

Borrowing a few terms from critical thinking, this is another map, or model, of how I feel I need to guide my teams. When do I feel like I have successful gotten my team where they could have been all along?

Here is a great quote from this PDF file on critical thinking:

From the cognitive scientist’s point of view, the mental activities that are typically called critical thinking are actually a subset of three types of thinking: reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving.

I say that critical thinking is a subset of these because we think in these ways all the time, but only sometimes in a critical way. Deciding to read this article, for example, is not critical thinking. But carefully weighing the evidence it presents in order to decide whether or not to believe what it says is.

Critical reasoning, decision making, and problem solving—which, for brevity’s sake, I will refer to as critical thinking—have three key features: effectiveness, novelty, and self-direction.

Critical thinking is effective in that it avoids common pitfalls, such as seeing only one side of an issue, discounting new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning from passion rather than logic, failing to support statements with evidence, and so on.

Critical thinking is novel in that you don’t simply remember a solution or a situation that is similar enough to guide you. For example, solving a complex but familiar physics problem by applying a multi-step algorithm isn’t critical thinking because you are really drawing on memory to solve the problem. But devising a new algorithm is critical thinking.

Critical thinking is self-directed in that the thinker must be calling the shots: We wouldn’t give a student much credit for critical thinking if the teacher were prompting each step he took.

—D.W.

the last part hit home on many levels about what it means to coach someone to learn a new skill.:

Critical thinking is self-directed in that the thinker must be calling the shots: We wouldn’t give a student much credit for critical thinking if the teacher were prompting each step he took.

Learning a new skill  means that they do not need you there to continue doing something. that you are no longer a bottleneck.

A self organized team is a self-directed team, as far as critical thinking is concerned. But we want our team to not only be self directed, but also effective, by avoiding common pitfalls as as discounting new ideas, seeing only one side of an issue, etc. Learning to be effective is to acquire a set of new skills, of each of these pitfalls, if they occur for members of the team.

A critical thinking team uses novel ideas, not always blindly applying templates to different problems, but always experimenting, and finding new, better ways, of doing new, or even the same things. there is always something new to be learned.

As I usually say, if everyone is too comfortable, you’re not learning anything. so something new has to jump into the equation in the form of a new experiment (‘what if we did no iterations for 3 months?’)

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