The aim of this article is to highlight areas that organisations can improve on when it comes to the ‘thinking habits’ of their people.

  • If a task requires no thinking, then automate.
  • Engaged employees are happier and more productive.
  • To get employees to engage you must first address hindering thoughts.
  • Asking the right question at the right time to the right person (ie. Coaching) is a very powerful tool that the workforce can easily be equipped with.
  • Better thinking leads to more productive outcomes.

Where would better thinking make the biggest difference in your organisation?

Organisations, and in particular their HR departments, are becoming increasingly concerned with self-developing workforces and their commitment to learn.


Well, time is precious and taking hours off inefficient processes can make huge impacts in the business. It also prevents skill gaps emerging and helps to highlight talent in management teams.

How can you accelerate the development of your workforce?

One way is to equip them with the skills to become more solution focused. Dr Cyril Hellier, Psychological Services Strategic Officer, describes solution focused thinking as;

“Solution focused practice assumes that change and development is always achieved by people drawing on their individual/collective resources.”

“The ideas at the heart of solution focused practice have repeatedly demonstrated their powerful capacity to resolve difficulties and build potential.”

Thus, a shared solution focused mentality amongst employees could also increase engagement in the workplace.

Assuming the organisation has a clear vision and aligned set of objectives, the effect of a solution-focused workforce could be enormous in terms of bottom line growth.

But, how do you encourage your people to be more solution focused?

To digest the approach to what seems like a huge task, we have broken down the journey into 4 steps; Engage, Interrupt, Develop and Questions.

  1. Engage..and empower your people to constantly search for solutions.

For maximum momentum, not only should organisational leaders remain focused and aligned to objectives, but they need to equip their people with the tools necessary to replicate this and resources to ‘nudge’ them back on track should they begin to fall off it.

It is essential to point out that the creation and sustainable existence of a solution focused culture relies on leaders as advocates and their alignment to the new desired behaviours. Human Resources play a vital role in highlighting and monitoring/supporting role modelling from top executive ranks, through managers and supervisors. Once this internal influence becomes consistent, the wider workforce can be empowered through the involvement of solution focused approaches.

An average company is 6860 employees and if just 10% of the workforce saved just 10 minutes/day, they would save 28,500 hours every year!

‘What could your organisation achieve with an extra 28,500 hours, or 14 extra FTE’s?’

  1. Interrupt....habitually ineffective thinking and help your people improve it.

We are all guilty of having unhelpful habits, some more than others. The first step is simply to identify them. Then you can equip your people with the tools to replace them with more helpful or productive habits.

Research conducted by DCOE – Defence Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health say;

“Research indicates it is possible to form new, positive habits, just as it is possible to break negative ones. During the past 10 years, scientists have increased their understanding of why our brain motivates us to habitual behaviors.

Although habits can be automatic and the urge to repeat them strong, bad habits can be broken and new positive habits can be consciously formed.”

Imagine if the majority of people in your organisation ‘automatically’ went in search of a solution when faced with an obstacle instead of accepting it. We described earlier how a shared solution focused mentality amongst employees could increase engagement and one reason would be the

anticipation of success, or better yet the acknowledgement of that success by colleagues and peers.

The DCOE tell us;

Human beings respond positively to success and this success helps ingrain new behaviors (Paul, 2012).

So, focus on the breaking of existing bad habits by your people and orientate them towards goals and new positive habits once broken.

Wendy Wood & Dennis Rünger created a framework depicting three ways in which habits interfere with goals to guide behaviour.

In their 2015 annual review on the ‘Psychology of Habit’ they describe how;

Goals energize and direct action by defining a desired end state.

In our three-pronged model, habits and goals interact through habit formation, habit performance, and inferences about the causes of behavior.”

In this way habits offer a powerful method of creating and maintaining a desired set of behaviours in individuals or teams, increasing the chance of success and the impact of a solution focused culture. 

  1. Develop……problem solving through your people’s conversations.

A ‘Common Language’ is key in the sustainability and continuous improvement of an organisation’s solution focused culture. One thing that links every individual in an organisation is communication. In an article posted by Field Service News they describe solution-focused mind-sets as;

“In successful organisations, this is embedded in the DNA of its people which drives themselves forward to deliver results that makes the real difference. How does your team measure up?

It is in fact solution focused thinking that really drives the organisation forward in creating competitive advantage. A self-learning organisation is one that has the rigour to identify and quantify problems, yet the discipline to shift to solution thinking, develop forward momentum and achieve results.”

If your conversations are consistently future thinking, solution focused and results driven then not only will the success of the company follow, but attraction of the very best talent will rise due to the feeling that ‘this is the place to be’ – induced by the common language used between employees.

The most crucial of these conversations will include managers, some of which will be selected advocates of the new culture mentioned earlier. Conversations with structure and focus are often referred to as coaching conversations. This doesn’t mean that organisations need to hire or train technical ‘coaches’, rather create advocates who have the skills to have conversations with more of a diagnostic approach – ‘How might we possibly solve this?’ or ‘How could we possibly achieve that?’

Andy Gilbert, founder of Go MAD Thinking and acclaimed expert in coaching conversations, describes coaching as,

“One person helping another person with their thinking by

simply asking great questions.”

  1. Questions……will allow your people to resolve issues and generate ideas and ways forward.

The fact high quality questions elicit better responses is nothing new. A good question is one that stops you in your tracks and really gets you thinking.

This is the secret to a great question.

It is one that evokes a deeper thought process – perhaps resulting in a new idea or greater clarity on something.

In a recent survey report written by Expedite, a HR consultancy, questions were explored as an important element to thinking,

“Recent Thinking Effectiveness Audits revealed that up to 51% of

questions asked in Executive and senior management meetings are poorly constructed or phrased in a sub-optimal way.”

This can create a huge waste of time and resource by focusing employees minds on responding to low quality questions.

If you want to change or influence a person’s thinking (and subsequent actions and results) you must first change the question. Leaders and managers need to give more conscious thought to designing high quality questions before, as well as during, meetings.

Questions can be designed to help people do two things; focus their mind or open their imagination.

A well-designed question can make a significant difference on the outcome of a conversation or meeting. The compound impact it can have when universally used across an organisation is huge.

Ben Furman, an internationally renowned teacher in solution-focused coaching, describes the importance of imagination when being solution-focused,

“It is interesting to me that we, who work in this field, so rarely use

the word imagination. Why not?

Why don’t we speak about imagination even if that is an integral part of

any solution-focused process?”

The most talented creative thinkers often aren’t born that way but have developed the habit of asking themselves really useful questions. By reflecting on a ‘naturally asked’ question and redesigning it to either open the imagination or focus the mind, thinking will become more effective and therefore results more productive. The addition of words, “Could, possibly and might” help to open the imagination, while words such as, “specifically, by when, the most” will focus the mind. If organisations want to improve productivity or lead in innovation, their people must get into the habit of redesigning low-quality questions through a solution focused culture.


This article set out to explain the importance of harnessing the ‘thinking’ within an organisation. More importantly, to cultivate solution focused thinking which leads to a problem-solving culture. This is done through:

  • Engaging your people
  • Interrupting their hindering thoughts
  • Building effective habits
  • Utilising high quality questions

In conclusion, breaking lazy, old and unproductive thinking and replacing with evocative, helpful questions will help to accelerate results in your organisation and release the talent in your people.

Dan Fenwick works for Go MAD Thinking and the original white paper can be found here.

Go MAD Thinking started in 1997 by Andy Gilbert, TEDx talker, visionary and entrepreneur,when a research team underwent an original study including over 4,000 hours of interviews and desk research as we sought to discover and explain in the simplest possible way, the key success principles that people naturally apply when making a difference (M.A.D.). This lead to the development of a results framework and a practical set of tools that anyone can easily learn and consciously apply to increase their probability of success – from an 8 year old child listening to the story of “Gilbert Filbert & His Big MAD Box” to Alan, a retired University Lecturer of 82 attending a Results Accelerator Programme in order to achieve his dream of bringing the TEDx franchise to his home city and hosting an inspirational day for 500 people in his community. We now have a vision to create “100 million Light Bulb Moments by 18th May 2023!”