Productive Faculty Meetings

Using the 6 Thinking Hats

As summer draws to an end, faculty meetings tend to ramp up. Do you ever find these meetings tiring, confusing, or unproductive?

No matter what the issue or discussion is, we often come at it from different angles. Let’s say we’re planning a back-to-school event to welcome new families and get everyone pumped for the year ahead. Maybe one person is focused on repeating what we did last year — “let’s just list out what we did and repeat.” Maybe another person has negative emotions or assumptions about the event and keep suggesting ways to shorten it or questioning whether it’s even useful. Yet another person, maybe a new teacher, is excited to contribute and bring new ideas to the table.

When all these different approaches come together, but aren’t clearly identified as such, the resulting conversation can be winding, feel chaotic, and potentially be unproductive.

The Map

Of course we come to meetings with our own perspectives and biases. That can make it difficult or slow to figure out the best way forward when we are all pushing and pulling in different directions. Instead, if we approach a meeting saying “together we want to draw the map and then figure out the best path through it,” that can change the dynamic and make meetings more efficient.

How

Edward de Bono developed the Six Thinking Hats process to help teams separate, identify, and intentionally use the different kinds of approaches I introduced above. Instead of everyone coming at the meeting from a different angle, we all look at the issue from the same angle, then together move on to the next angle.

In the example above, person 1 might be laying out all the facts of what happened last year while person 3 is excitedly brainstorming new ideas. That can be frustrating to both. Person 1 is thinking “let’s just figure out what we did last year and assign people to do that again; be quiet.” Meanwhile person 3 is thinking “why do all my great ideas keep getting shut down? Maybe my new colleagues don’t respect me.”

Instead, we can say “let’s all start by looking at the facts. What do we know about what happened last year.” Later, you can say “Now let’s think creatively. What other things could we do this year to make it better.”

De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats help us visualize the 6 different angles we can use to make a decision or plan.

  • The Blue Hat — the blue hat can be a good starting point to a meeting. When we approach something from this angle, we are focused on process. What’s the agenda, what’s the goal, how do we want to proceed.
  • The White Hat — When we look at an issue from this angle, we are thinking much like teacher 1 above. We are focused on facts. What do we know. What do we need to know.
  • The Red Hat — This hat is about emotions, hunches, and intuitions. Sometimes we just think something is a good idea (or bad idea) but don’t have a lot of evidence for why. When the whole group puts on their red hat, we can let these emotions and intuitions be a valid part of the meeting. Rather than having sneaky, unsaid emotions impacting the decision, we can explicitly call them out and acknowledge them.
  • The Green Hat — This is the mode that teacher 3 was in above. She was wearing her Green Hat, sharing all kinds of big, new ideas. When everyone wears that hat at the same time, everyone can be in fun, creative mode and her big ideas wouldn’t feel so discordant with what others were trying to accomplish.
  • The Yellow Hat — This is where we get to say “ok, let’s look at these new ideas, or this situation, and see what’s good about it.
  • The Black Hat — As you probably guessed, this is where we try to find the holes in our ideas. You might have been in meetings before where it seems like one person is always wearing the black hat. They always seem to find the bad in every idea. That can frustrating for everyone, including the black hat wearer, because they might feel like they are the only one who is willing to call out the down sides. When everyone puts on the black hat together, no single person has to be responsible for that mode of thinking and you might find holes that would otherwise go unseen.

We have started using this language at Pear Deck both formally and informally. So far, we’ve found that it offers a helpful vocabulary for understanding how someone else is thinking about something. I haven’t tried it with students yet, but I think it could be an equally helpful vocabulary for students working on a project together.

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