Running a busy dental practice means challenges can be thrown up on a daily basis. Here, dental business consultant Sheila Scott explores a tried and tested technique to decide how to deal with opportunities or solve problems effectively as a team and keep your practice thriving…
Holding a team meeting to discuss and overcome challenges, is a great idea…but often it can be a struggle to keep the conversation on track and resolve the issue. Do you feel your meetings go off at tangents? Or maybe not everyone and their ideas get a fair hearing?
You’re probably not alone, but it is worth making sure the whole team is involved and engaged in discussions – so the actions that result are much more likely to succeed.
Some years ago, I discovered one stunningly simple and successful planning and problem-solving tool that can help you do just that – The Six Thinking Hats®. I found this method when I stumbled across the Edward de Bono shelf in the science library at Aberdeen University, and I was inspired by his then quite unscientific views on thinking, problem solving and creativity.
I eventually achieved accreditation to teach this method, and used it to help teams develop their practices and solve problems – with fast, confident and often unexpected results.
De Bono points to the fact that often, when a team makes the decision, it’s usually the person who is most skilled at arguing who drives the decisions, not the person who has the best ideas, and the most useful thoughts to contribute. Too often these plans falter later on because unexpected new angles and problems appear.
“When a team makes the decision, it’s usually the person who is most skilled at arguing who drives the decisions, not the person who has the best ideas, and the most useful thoughts to contribute.”
So, what if we could all improve the quality of our thinking, and develop a method of considering all the important angles of a situation or decision. Instead of Mr Creative coming up with an idea, just for Ms Caution to point out the folly of it….what if, everybody in a group is required to think in the same way at the same time, and then to switch sides. Wouldn’t this enhance the power of our thinking, and the quality of decision making?
Six Thinking Hats® allows us to do just that – to separate our thinking skills and to stay focused on each type of thinking in turn. We simply, in turn, put a different coloured hat on to direct and restrict our thinking and discussing approach.
“It can sound tricky, but in practice, teams move swiftly through discussions.”
So, under a yellow hat, we’re only allowed to think and talk in terms of the value or benefits of an idea or finding the solution we seek. No one is allowed to pooh-pooh any aspect of the discussion whilst under the yellow hat, and everyone eventually joins in the build-up of positivity about the idea or the solution. Positivity and benefits are explored and magnified fully.
When it is time to don the black hat the doubters and the seekers of reasons not to do anything get their say. Even those who are desperate to see the idea succeed can find room to raise and discuss possible pitfalls, after all these are just obstacles that need to be overcome if the idea is to succeed.
But what about coming up with the idea in the first place? This is what de Bono is probably best known for – creativity and creative thinking – and this is what teams are required to do under the green hat. Here, more than anywhere in the process, there is no cynicism, dejection or despair allowed! In fact, bad, mad and downright ridiculous ideas are encouraged…as teams are encouraged to allow their thoughts to hop and skip along related (albeit, they may be wrong) lines until someone alights on a great thought worth following. All ideas should be recorded and only later accepted or rejected. This is brainstorming without breaking the flow.
The three other hats – white (think of all the information or data needed to make a well-considered decision – list it and find out if necessary); red (let’s get our feelings out of the way, so we’re less tempted to let them cloud our final decision) and blue (managing the thinking/process) complete the set and finish the process. The only rule is that all the hats are used, in turn, and more than once or twice if necessary.
The blue hat starts and finishes each process though…It usually belongs to the team facilitator (not always the practice manager or practice owner) although it can be put on at any time by any member of the team. The blue hat is used to set the purpose of the session, to sift and refine all the information, ideas, benefits, problems to be solved and feelings; to remind team members to hold back when they comment outside each hat’s purpose during their allotted time; to move onto another coloured hat and to agree an action plan at the end of the session.
“Teams often realise they have made decisions with remarkable agreement after just 10 or 15 minutes devoted to difficult topics.”
It can sound tricky, but in practice, teams move swiftly through discussions, drawing or writing notes on a communal board or flipchart for later reference, scoring out the less useful ones – spending no more than a couple of minutes on each hat at a time. Shockingly, teams often realise they have made decisions with remarkable agreement after just 10 or 15 minutes devoted to difficult topics. It is for that reason, that I urge you to try this process.
The Six Thinking Hats® give us a method for fully engaging the team in exploring practice developments, deciding on a way forward, and contributing confidently to driving changes forwards.