(Written by Ron Cox) To help understand thinking frameworks and how they work, let’s take a look back to some work that we did when I was at Xerox. The company was focused on Total Quality (we ultimately won the Malcolm Baldrige Award). One of our key initiatives was to train all 100,000 employees in problem-solving. Every employee learned how to identify, analyze and solve complex problems using a disciplined six-step process. This training taught employees how to collaborate and use different thinking approaches in each distinctive step of the process. In other words, they would adapt their thinking and analysis for each step.
I headed the Organizational Development group that rolled out this training and consulted with thousands of teams as they took on real problems using this approach. Problem-solving teams often called on our staff to help them when they became stuck or struggled with properly applying the process. Coming into the middle of an ongoing team process, we would ask the team to walk us through the steps they had taken and share their thinking with us. We could then determine where they were and help them get back on track.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this exposure had a profound impact on me. I had my first major experience observing people at all levels and with different skills collaborate by thinking together with great success. To accomplish this, they adhered to a defined process with specific steps. This disciplined process was a framework for how to use the best thinking approaches in the right order and at the right time. It also required a certain consciousness or awareness about the process of thinking. Teams had to be able to articulate what they were thinking.
The problem-solving process is a great example of what we mean by “thinking framework.” When thinking about certain things, we have learned that one’s thinking can be optimized by following a certain framework and being able to articulate what you are thinking. Applying the right thinking approach at the right time is both efficient and effective. It also provides assurance that the right things have been considered with the appropriate amount of focus.
Another key focus is on converting one’s thoughts into words. Clear articulation enables clarity and focus, enhances communications, and builds intent.
We continue to adapt thinking frameworks to different situations and have developed a number of tools and mental models to support them. We have also worked with members of our team to develop our experience in coaching using these frameworks.