How to Help Your Team Think Bigger

Help your team think bigger by engaging, equipping, and encouraging.

The other day we were chatting with a group of senior leaders deeply committed to building a courageous culture. They shared a frustration we hear all the time: “Our managers think too small! How do we help people REALLY CONSIDER what they’re doing–to look for better ways to work smarter? They do their work, but we can’t seem to help them think bigger.”

“We’re encouraging people to share their thoughts,” they continued. “They must have ideas that would make their work easier or help our customers but so far, no one’s said anything.”

Help them think bigger by engaging.

Helping your team think bigger will take time, so you want to start by engaging them in the process.

When you have a team of “the best damn doers” it’s not realistic to expect an overnight change in their thinking or behavior. They’ve had success doing what they know how to do, they feel competent at it, and it’s comfortable. For many people, competence and contentment are significant motivators.

It’s also what’s been expected. Many organizations have invested lots of time identifying the critical behaviors that everyone must do it achieve success. Asking teams or leaders to consider deviating from those activities naturally causes concern. And yet, the dance between clarity and curiosity is critical to continued relevance and growth.

Why do we do what we do?

You can start helping a team of doers think bigger by engaging in conversations that redefine what success looks like. Success isn’t completing a task, it’s achieving an outcome. Engage the team in these conversations to build shared ownership about the outcomes.

A note here: this conversation doesn’t undermine the importance of leading indicators or success behaviors. The goal is to pull back the curtain and reconnect what everyone does to why it matters. In our effort to make success easier, a tunnel-vision focus on success behaviors can shut down curiosity and creativity.

Finally, a critical part of this “what success looks like” conversation is that we regularly examine what we’re doing to see if there might be better ways to achieve our outcomes.

How do we do what we do?

Once you and your team have clarified what success looks like in terms of the outcomes you want to achieve, then it’s time to turn the focus back to tasks and activities.

Engage the team in a conversation about how they achieve those outcomes. What are they doing now that works? Is there anything they’re doing right now that doesn’t work?

This is a great time to introduce a courageous question. Choose one specific area of work and ask for a single way to improve. For example, “Thinking about our customer service experience, what is one way we might get our customer an accurate answer faster than we do today?”

Help them think bigger by equipping.

Once you and the team have re-examined and aligned on your critical behaviors, everyone will get back to work and back to “doing.” Now it’s time to equip the team to think bigger in the course of their normal work.

There are two ways to equip your team to think beyond “doing.”

1. Give them time to think.

Look at people’s schedules and the number of tasks (including meetings) that occupy their day. Will it take all the self-discipline and willpower they can muster to barely succeed at what’s on their plate?

It’s almost impossible to think bigger when you’re in survival mode. Thinking takes time.

If swamped is the norm for your team, think about small ways to introduce more white space and margin in your days. (And be aware of your example here – you may need to lead yourself before you can help your team.)

You might create structured thinking time through a regular “Why Week.” Introduce a process or task at the beginning of the week. Schedule 30 minutes each day for the team to discuss one question:

  • Why do we do this?
  • Who is it for?
  • What is it for?
  • Is it working?
  • What’s one way we could improve it?

2. Give them tools to think.

You can also equip people to think bigger by giving them specific ways to do it. The “Why Week” is one example. Other tools include:

Help them think bigger by encouraging.

When you first ask your team to think about how to improve processes or make things work better, you might not get an answer right away. It can take time for people to process and then take the risk of speaking up.

What they need now is continuous encouragement to think bigger.

Eventually, someone will make a suggestion. Everyone is watching to see if you really meant it and you’ll get more of what you encourage and celebrate. Thank them for their idea. Follow up and encourage them to elaborate, ask if anyone can expand on it, add to it, or if it sparks another thought.

As you and your team go about daily work, be on the lookout for opportunities to encourage bigger thinking. For example, if there’s an outcome you didn’t achieve despite the team doing all the “right” things, it’s an opportunity to examine what happened.

Was it the right goal? Are these the right activities to get there? Was it perhaps a successful failure (where you didn’t achieve the outcome for a healthy reason)?

As you reinforce the opportunities for bigger thinking and celebrate when it happens, you’ll build momentum and your team’s confidence in thinking beyond their immediate tasks.

Your Turn to Help Your Team Think Bigger

Helping your team or organization stay relevant and effective requires an elegant dance between clarity and curiosity.

For teams who have found success in clarity, it will take time to help them develop a regular cadence of curiosity. You can help your team think bigger by engaging in conversation about what they do and why they do it, equipping your team with time and tools, and encouraging everyone as they contribute.

We’d love to hear from you—how do you help your team to look beyond that task at hand?

Related: 101 Remote Team Communication Approaches for Stronger Teams