The Business Analyst's Guide To Encouraging Critical Thinking


If you’re a manager in charge of a business analyst team or are a part of any team in charge of achieving key business objectives, this article discusses useful insights on how you can trigger and sustain critical thinking in the team.

Imagine you’re in a meeting. You present a business analysis plan and ask your team members to share their thoughts. Now, imagine two situations. In the first one, everyone says “that’s great, boss!” They nod and approve of everything you say. You ask if they would add or adjust anything in the plan. They say it’s perfect. In the second situation, everyone starts thinking. They come up with different ideas and express them because they want to contribute towards a better outcome. That’s called critical thinking, and it’s what you want from everyone in your team.

The environments in many organizations don’t always support critical thinking. If you notice that team members or the stakeholders relevant to your project are not expressing any ideas, you shouldn’t blame them. They have to be encouraged, and the manager (or the BA, who works in teams) has a crucial role to play in that process.

Here's a list of tips for encouraging the critical thinking process.

Make Sure They Are Not Too Busy

If your team members or business stakeholders are constantly pressured by tasks and deadlines, they won’t have time for critical thinking. When someone has to work too hard and still doesn’t have enough time to meet expectations, they are looking for the most comfortable routes to get things done. They are not willing to put in extra “thinking” effort.

To motivate team members or stakeholders to think from a critical point of view, take some burden off their shoulders. Do they have enough breaks? Do they have enough time to complete their tasks? How many projects are running at the same time? Do they have space that allows creativity? If not, you should consider bringing in additional stakeholders or requesting for more support, so that tasks can be distributed more evenly.

Don’t Settle In Your Comfort Zone

When a person in a position of authority is comfortable with current ways of doing things, team members are less likely to bother making suggestions. Think: have you ever accepted a suggestion? If you’re so confident in your decisions, why would you want to encourage critical thinking within the team or among stakeholders?

The first thing you should do is step outside your comfort zone. With that, you’ll motivate others to do the same. Ask them to come up with new ideas for the project you’re working on. Tell them you’ll make decisions together. When someone suggests a new method or a different solution to a problem, do not reject their plan outright. Consider their point of view!  

Ask The Right Questions

“Okay people, let’s do some critical thinking here.” That’s not the right trigger. You can’t just get others to think critically by saying so. Give them flexible guidelines and lead the discussion in a focused direction.

When you’re trying to solve a problem, for example, ask these questions:

  • What happened?
  • When did we see the first signs of a problem?
  • Why did this happen?
  • How did we allow it to happen?
  • How can we solve the problem?

With these prompts, you’ll encourage team members, stakeholders and yourself to see the problem from different angles. You’ll gain a new perspective that sets the path for successful critical thinking.

Support Logical Thinking Processes

Critical thinking is different from creative thinking. When you’re asking others to suggest solutions, you’re not just looking for ideas. You’re looking for ideas that work. Sound reasoning has to be the foundation of this process.

Of course, you should allow everyone to express ideas, even if you don’t see the logic in them. Maybe they see it from another perspective and it will make sense after they explain it to you. However, you should examine the sound reasoning of each idea before you accept it. Examine all factual claims and premises. Take all factors into consideration and do your best to predict the outcome.

Thorough analysis of each idea is part of the critical thinking process. It’s important not to intimidate others with this analysis. You shouldn’t discourage them from contributing their ideas. Show support by emphasizing the good things about each idea, too.

Teach Them How!

Did you know you could teach others how to think critically? Provide training on how to analyze and judge thoughts according to specific standards of logical reasoning. Teach them how to evaluate the similarities and differences between ideas, seek information and evidence, and predict the likely outcome.

Research shows that explicit instructions on critical thinking helps people develop these skills. When you combine such training with all other tips listed above, you’ll contribute to a working environment that supports and encourages the processes of critical thinking.  

Why should you even bother to encourage discussion and debate? Because that’s how you get team members to realize their true potential. That’s how you find more ways to make your organization better. Plus, everyone’s work gets more interesting when they are allowed to express and evaluate ideas.

About the author:

Micheal Gilmore is an entrepreneur and career advisor at Resumes Planet. He specializes in building high-performance teams and delivering great products in the least time. Micheal is also a passionate career advisor and facilitator. His life is fully dedicated to the people. You can catch Micheal on Twitter.