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  • Writer's pictureBruce O'Brien

Is your team a thinking team or just a doing team?

I love this video. I came across it a few years back in Shell when a great colleague of mine shared it with his leadership team. One of his values as a leader was to respect his team, and to respect the work that they did. Imagine the workplace if all leaders were wired that way?

I’m sharing this today as I believe that this kind of leadership is what can change the workplace – it makes work more interesting, it increases the creativity of your organisation, it makes coming to work more fun – and ultimately, it hits your bottom line as you have motivated employees who are thinking as well as doing while they are serving your customers.

There are a number of things to take away but here’s a couple that are important to me:

Creative and diverse thinking: when I was at Shell, I became predictable – when my team came to me with problems, I would always ask “what do you think”. And after a while, they would come to me with a problem, and predicting my next question (what do you think), they would already have done their thinking. And so our conversations became coaching conversations rather than “Bruce fixes it” conversations. This was much more fun as each member of the team could see their own impact in our work. And each team member was invested in that work because they had skin in the game.

Put authority where the knowledge is: this can be really tough but it’s essential if you are to lead an organisation that truly thinks. This means you have to trust your team and your team has to trust you. This means relinquishing traditional manager activities like signing off, checking, escalation, authorising. This means instead designing systems and process that deliberately put the authority at the work place. Look at this example in a UK hotel chain – their front desk staff have the authority to give a full refund in the case of customer dissatisfaction – no need to call the duty manager – they just do it there and then. Sounds scary?

Setting your team up to think as well as do takes courage: workplace customs like to see this privilege bestowed on managers alone. So this is a call out to all leaders to lead through intent rather than instruction and to set free the thinking in your teams

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