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Encourage Strategic Thinking With These Exercises
Dan Rose

March 20, 2017

As a manager, have you ever told a member of your staff to start thinking more strategically and “big picture”? Did you get a blank stare back like a deer in the headlights when you did? Do you think your employee may have been wondering what in the world you were asking them to do? If so, don’t worry … even veteran managers and supervisors make the same mistake. You assume that, because you know what strategic thinking is, your employees know as well. And, everyone knows what “big picture” means, right???

While strategic thinking isn’t just for the members of the Board of Directors anymore, you need to help your employees develop their ability to do it. Luckily, asking the right questions, having new experiences and listening to other perspectives ignites strategic thinking. Managers like yourself can trigger strategic thinking among their employees by creating certain exercises that stimulate new ideas and innovative plans.

Here are three activities you can implement to stimulate strategic thinking among your workers:

  1. Stretch those mental muscles

Sharpening strategic thinking skills often comes down to the obstacles people experience and how well they change their thinking reach reasonable conclusions. In your employee’s case, challenge them with a project they are unfamiliar with to shake things up. This can be an individual or a team exercise.

Team members usually have similar experiences or qualifications, but it’s their differences that can often lead to unique breakthroughs. Inspire productive critical thinking by asking them to solve issues they may not have encountered before. Every member of the team may come up with their own response and then the entire team can build off the responses to come up with the best solution. Getting your team out of their comfort zone leads to many positive outcomes, even if this particular challenge isn’t solved.

  1. Ask deeper questions

Executive Les McKeown suggested asking the team 10 specific questions during a strategic planning meeting to stimulate ideas. You can use the same principle as an exercise to induce strategic thinking among your team members. Leaders can adopt some of McKeown’s questions as ways to stimulate new thought processes in team members:

  • What changes would you make if you fired yourself today and returned tomorrow as the boss with no experience with the organization?
  • What metric would YOU use to measure your success? Not how someone else would measure you, but how you measure you.
  • What aspects would the perfect competitor have?
  • If this team was responsible for the entire organization’s success, what would it accomplish?

These types of questions help teams consider possibilities they didn’t think about before, and create new solutions to problems.

  1. Strongly encourage them to expand their horizons

Experts say that one of the best ways to prompt strategic thinking is to gain new experiences and perspectives. By reading differing opinions, employees can gain fresh insight about their industry or notice things they missed before. And, while this may seem to be asking for trouble in such a polarized country we live in today, remind them that there are plenty of resources in the world that aren’t on the fringes of extremism that can enrich their minds.

Nina Bowman of the HBR, advises to be proactive in seeking out peers, both inside and outside your organization. Using conduits such as industry associations or groups, your understanding of the trends happening within the marketplace for organizations like yours will be much greater. Remember to share what you’ve all found across your networks as others will appreciate it.

Of course, this is just the start of building a team that thinks strategically. Give your people training to develop other skills that will help them. For instance, improving communication skills will allow them to debate issues with others without letting it get personal. Or, they can learn how to ask probing questions that immediately get to the point without wasting time.


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