Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Atlanta, GA

Critical thinking skills are important to BV leaders—and for good reason. Research has shown that employees who possess good critical thinking and problem-solving skills are more creative; work more efficiently and effectively with co-workers, clients, partners and vendors; and are more effective leaders.



Problem solving and critical thinking refers to the ability to identify issues, obstacles, and opportunities and then use knowledge, facts, and data to effectively solve problems. This doesn’t mean your employees need to have an immediate answer, it means they have to be able to think on their feet, assess problems and find realistic solutions within a reasonable time frame.

Most jobs require problem-solving skills. One could argue that SOME jobs consist of nothing but solving problems!    However, many people tend to do three things when faced with a problem: they get afraid or uncomfortable and wish it would go away; they feel that they have to come up with an answer and it has to be the right answer; and/or they look for someone to blame.

Facing the problem becomes a problem.

How can you foster critical thinking and problem solving in your firm?

Create a problem-solving culture: See problems from a professional, not personal, perspective; focus on issues, not personalities. Encourage discussion and debate and finding creative solutions to challenges; avoid mean-spirited attacks.

Model critical thinking: Rely on more than just your gut instinct or past experiences; include research, facts and reasoning in solving problems.

Provide critical thinking skills training: Explicitly teach the skills required for critical thinking and the process of “how to think about it” when approaching a problem.

Practice through simulation: Create scenarios and exercises to help employees take the knowledge they acquire during skills training and apply it to real life situations.

Encourage input from others: Make it a policy that whenever an employee comes to you with a problem, he or she must also be prepared to show you at least one solution. Ask:

  • “Why do you think this will work?”
  • “What assumptions have you made?”
  • “What alternatives might we consider?”

Throw out a question in a team meeting: Collaboration among co-workers boosts critical thinking and leads to better decisions, exposing employees to other points of view and looking at the problem from different perspectives.  Have your employees propose multiple solutions for a problem and discuss the pros and cons of each. Ask:

  • “What are the risks if we take this action?”
  • “What if we did A instead of B?”

Look for teaching opportunities. Deconstruct good and faulty decisions (especially your own) and discuss how people arrived at them.

Embrace failure. Encourage and support your employees when they take a risk and fail. As people become more independent problem solvers and decision makers, they may stumble. If they make a mistake, use it as a learning opportunity, not a reason for criticism or blame.

There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. There is never enough time to solve each one without dealing with another along the way.  All employers want employees who can work through problems on their own or as an effective member of a team. Ideal employees can think critically and creatively, assess problems, share thoughts and opinions, use good judgment, and make decisions to find realistic solutions.  Your firm will benefit by your helping your employees develop their critical thinking skills and become proficient problem-solvers.

Ellen Warden
Ellen Warden