How Does Critical Thinking Inform Our Problem Solving?
In an increasingly complex world, the ability to think rationally and solve problems effectively is even more critical. In the modern workplace, we need to work effectively with others to solve problems. This requires working together to navigate different perspectives and collaborating to choose and implement the best, systematic solutions. This becomes particularly challenging with complex, and seemingly ambiguous, problems.
Problem: Design the Perfect Team
Take for example, designing the perfect team – one that works together cohesively to produce high-impact results. Is that really possible – is there a science to team construction? There are countless studies aimed at determining what makes a team effective. Should you balance introverts with extroverts? Is it better to have similar educational backgrounds? Do they need to have similar professional goals? Surely if there is a pattern, in this data-driven world we can find it, right?
Framing the Problem
Fortunately, Google, the algorithm master, has in fact tried to answer these very questions. Through the Aristotle Project, the tech giant took a look inwards to see if they could find the recipe for designing the perfect team. They applied the principles of critical thinking – beginning with an analytical, inquisitive, and systematic approach to framing the problem. They sifted through a decade of data they had collected on various aspects of its employees’ lives to analyze if the best teams were made up of like-minded individuals, with similar interests or personality types, or if it mattered more that they had similar hobbies, similar motivators, or departmental goals. Or was longevity of the team itself the key?
Breaking through Perceptions
After examining 180 teams from different parts of the company Dubey, the Aristotle Project leader admitted “we had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.” As they struggled with their pragmatic approach to find patterns, they called on another critical thinking skill and expanded their circle of knowledge to look at research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on group norms. Group norms can be thought of as the rules teams cultivate that enable success.
Finding the Root Cause
Through the refined lens of group norms, Google found that two important trends emerged: First, they found that on high performing teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. They called this “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking” and it boils down to each person having a chance to talk. Second, they found that high performing teams had what they call a high “average social sensitivity,” also known as emotional intelligence. The best teams were collectively good at identifying how others felt and providing the members “psychological safety.”
Implementing the Solution
Google sought to answer a specific problem—the composition of the perfect team. However, using an open-minded critical thinking approach focusing on data-driven results, Google was able to define (and ultimately address) the true problem at the core of team-building—how we can structure team interactions to achieve greater results. The Aristotle Project teaches us that critical thinking – thinking that is comprehensive, systematic, and traces the broad and deep implications of an issue – is what will give us a deeper understanding of our complex, ambiguous workplace problems. In challenging the conventional wisdom of our preconceived notions of our workplace issues, we can best develop innovative and effective solutions.