Recently I was facilitating a professional development program and posed the following question to the participants ‘Do you define your workplace as a thinking organisation’. This question was met with silence. As such I presented a follow up question, ‘Imagine this, if we were to see employees as a knowledge library, how many books are in your organisational library, which sections of your library have a large number of books and which sections would you like to have more books in’?
This concept of a knowledge library is worthy of further investigation. Building the skills and knowledge of employees is not mutually exclusive. Skill development results in better performance and outcomes in the workplace, however historically acquisition of such knowledge has been gained through some very traditional processes such as attendance to conferences and one off professional development programs. Now whilst these are useful means of acquiring new knowledge, they can at times be very costly and the opportunity for the whole team to participate as a group in such ventures is limited. So how might we as leaders create a thinking organisation?
- Promote provocation – provocative thinking stimulates conversation and invites people to justify current practices whilst allowing new ways of thinking e.g. asking the question ‘what are the challenges of retaining our current approach and what might be a new way of thinking about our work’?
- Implement divergent thinking in the workplace – invite people to think outside the box and refrain from responding with ‘we’ve tried that before’ or ‘I don’t think that will work’. You’ll never know the success of a new way of working unless you give it a try
- Make space for innovation – allow people time to step away from their day to day work and make allowances for them to think about innovation beyond their own roles e.g. to make suggestions to other on how they might improve their practices
- Ask the hard questions – hard questions invite hard answers so embrace the idea that thinking deeply about our work is what it takes to make a breakthrough in the workplace. Don’t shy away from a challenge
- Create spaces for debate – debates need not reduce people to an argument. Present an idea during a staff meeting and invite people to debate the idea until all sides of the debate have been exhausted
- Embrace ambiguity – we don’t always have an answer however sitting with ambiguity creates a space for people to think and play with ideas. Embrace the idea that we don’t always have to know the answer to every problem, but we do have to always be open to finding the answer
- Remain curious – the death of curiosity is the death of intelligence. Always be curious about what is taking place in the workplace. This approach keeps your brain hard wired for more information
- Allow new staff to share their insights – new staff have a new perspective. Don’t shut down new ideas by spending a lot of time advising new staff about ‘how we do our work here’ All this does is crush new thinking, New staff have not being indoctrinated into our way of working so embrace their freshness and insights.
So what are you waiting for? Take time to increase the knowledge in your workplace through these simple and worthwhile actions.
Written by Anthony Semann – Director Semann & Slattery