What can I do to get my employees to think for themselves?

If you really want your employees to take responsibility for decisions they make, you have to teach them how to think critically. Further, you have to convince them that you want them to do so. The first is simpler than the second. To train employees to think critically and come up with their own solutions to problems:

- Turn employees' questions back to them.

- Encourage individual members to go back to consult with other members of the team.

- Meet resistance with patient persistence.

- If employees make a mistake, use the error in judgment as a learning opportunity.

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Turn employees' questions back to them. When they bring a problem to you, don't be so quick to offer a solution, even if it's obvious to you. Ask the individual, "What do you think you should do?" Then listen to his answer and avoid commenting until he is finished. You may need to ask some follow-up questions in order to get the employee to think of a solution on his own.

Encourage individual members to go back to consult with other members of the team. Instead of providing answers, suggest your employees ask for advice from coworkers who may have had the same situation to deal with. Cement the team by having them work together to seek out an answer. Help individual employees to learn from people who simply do their jobs well and independently and who also can be a source of help in the department in developing individual team members' problem-solving skills.

You may meet resistance from some staff members who -prefer to avoid responsibility. Meet their resistance with patient persistence. Yes, there will be those employees who are perfectly happy with the status quo and have little interest in making the right decision or solving an ongoing problem. They prefer a 9-to-5 job with little responsibility beyond doing what they are told. However, with some persistence and the help of members of the team (think "peer pressure"), you may be able to encourage these individuals to take on more responsibility. If they do, and are successful, congratulate them.

If employees make a mistake, use the error in judgment as a learning opportunity, not a reason for pointing blame. Finally, use the rest of the team: Focus on what these individuals do best and ask for help from them for the team.

Why should team members be involved in the selection process?

As a manager, you have two choices. You can hire someone and let the individual make a place for himself or herself. Or you can involve the team in the decision and thereby shorten the timeframe between the new hire being considered an outsider and being regarded as a team member. The transition won't only be faster—it will occur in a less traumatic fashion for the new hire.

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Team members should be involved in the selection process as early as possible—even in interviews with prospective candidates. After all, the final choice will have to work effectively with the rest of the team. And participation in the interviews will give team members a good idea of the new hire's strengths and personality and enable them to relate to him or her more readily.

Even if you don't include the team in the recruitment process, you should ask them to help the new person adjust to the workplace. Certainly they might invite him or her to their coffee and lunch breaks. You want the new arrival to have a warm, enthusiastic welcome.

To be perceived as a member of the team may not be important to everyone, but to the majority of people it can be gratifying to feel accepted from the first day. With the additional support you provide as supervisor of the new hire, you can begin to get work from the new comer from the first day.

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