Facilitate Effective Meetings by Thinking with Six Hats

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 16, 2022

Published January 3, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Six Thinking Hats is a tool for parallel thinking that helps team members be more productive and mindfully involved and enables teams to collaborate effectively. Using the six hats to focus team discussions can promote active involvement in a respectful manner as your team works toward achieving its goals. By including Six Thinking Hats as one of your communication strategies, you may expand your leadership toolkit. In this article, we explore what the six hats are, how to apply them, and share some tips to help you integrate this strategy into your professional practice.

What are the six hats?

Six hats is a concept that boosts creative thinking and productivity, introduced by Dr. Edward de Bono in his book, Six Thinking Hats. He describes the methods of parallel thinking as a way for groups and teams to collaborate effectively and efficiently. Parallel thinking is a simple model of focused team discussion that fosters constructive group thinking. The six thinking hats are colour-coded, and each has its unique characteristics and qualities:

White hat

White is an objective and neutral colour. The white hat focuses attention on facts, figures, and other available data, and for identifying and gathering information that may be necessary. White hat thinking only provides baseline data and does not present any particular perspective or rationale about the discussion topic. It focuses on useful and usable data or data that is verifiable and reliable.

Red hat

Red can spark feelings of fire and warmth or signify emotion. The red hat, therefore, is useful when asking team members to share emotional perspectives, intuition, and feelings about the discussion topic. Often ignored in conversations, feelings and intuition may be helpful as long as everyone involved understands the red hat is in use. Validation of feelings isn't necessary. This helps ensure that all possible feelings come forward in the discussion and not only those with justification. Red hat thinking isn't about judgement. Red hat thinking requires a specific connection directly to the idea under discussion to avoid confusion.

Black hat

Black can lead to serious and subdued thinking. The black hat promotes a cautious approach and focuses on weaknesses in a concept or problems and challenges to overcome. Black hat thinking is a common approach to discussions since it highlights weaknesses, risks, problems, issues, and complications associated with the idea. This thinking mode helps to ensure the idea is legal and conforms to necessary regulations and other protocols.

Black hat thinking is logical thinking and, therefore, requires a rational basis for the criticism. It protects from danger and from taking a wrong step. Using black hats urges caution with concern for discussion about both pros and cons. When engaged in black hat thinking, it's important to be aware that it's easier to be critical than constructive. Consciously balancing the use of the black hat with others is advisable.

Yellow hat

Yellow is a positive and optimistic colour. Yellow hats encourage confidence, hope, and positive thinking. Yellow hat thinking encourages finding the variety of ways the idea under discussion might work. Yellow thinking may not always come naturally. It can be helpful to develop as much sensitivity toward positive thinking as many people have for black hat thinking.

Like the black hat, yellow hat thinking requires logical thought. This is necessary because actions resulting from yellow thinking happen in the future, and optimism supports a positive future. Constructive thinking is a key component of yellow hat thinking because it's about how to make things better.

Green hat

Green signifies growth and abundance. Green hats focus attention on creativity, new ideas, and meaningful change. It's about energy, options, and alternatives. Group creativity is an important element of green hat thinking.

Green hat thinking also involves and promotes lateral thinking. It allows you to consider the white hat data and information from different perspectives to generate possibilities. Such thinking may not conform to identified patterns in the data, but may cut across patterns or find tangents worthy of exploration.

Blue hat

Blue can represent cool, collected, and controlled approaches. It also represents the sky, which is most often blue. Use of the blue hat indicates control of the thinking process, including how professionals may use other hats. Using blue hat thinking at the beginning of a discussion helps to define the idea to be discussed and the purpose of the discussion session. It determines the sequence of other hats. The team lead or discussion facilitator typically uses the blue hat.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

How to apply the six thinking hats

Six Thinking Hats provides focus for you and your team when engaged in discussions on any topic. This may give everyone a role when planning, developing, and initiating projects. Use these steps to apply each type of thinking:

1. Organize, define, and outline

Blue hat thinkers, typically the discussion leaders, outline and delegate tasks in order to guide team members through the remaining five hats and their inherent thinking processes. Once team members understand their working roles, the blue hat thinker maintains perspective and control of the overall process until completion. They also summarize the discussion once it concludes.

2. Look for and collect information

When using white hat thinking, the team begins to look for data and facts about the project. White hat thinking brings forward all data and information about a task or project. For instance, when discussing changes to a marketing campaign, white hat thinking gathers all the details and information, including metrics, about the campaign.

3. Let intuition be a guide

Switching to red hat thinking, team members share their feelings or intuition about the campaign. Intuitive thinking and emotional intelligence are necessary for red hat thinking in helping to humanize the issue under discussion. While the justification for feelings shared is not necessary, it's advisable for team members to ensure their comments remain on topic.

4. Analyze flaws and risks

Black hat thinking is engaged to analyze potential risks and challenges associated with the idea under discussion. This requires an analysis of possible negative outcomes when applying various solutions to problems. For example, black hat thinking identifies any problems connected with making changes to the campaign.

5. Evaluate benefits and value

As a balance to black hat thinking, yellow hat thinking is about brainstorming and identifying possible ways to make changes to the campaign. This helps generate optimism about the future. Teammates in yellow hat mode identify the benefits to making certain decisions. The yellow hat thinkers are necessary to balance the risk-analysis thinking style of black hat roles.

6. Apply creative thinking

When the team employs green hat thinking, they find alternative changes to the campaign. Creative thinking and problem-solving facilitate identifying strategies and non-traditional solutions. Green hat thinking helps determine which campaign changes might be most meaningful.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Strategies for six thinking hats

The following strategies are helpful when you apply the six thinking hats, no matter the context of the application:

Ask the right questions for each thinking role

Each of the six thinking hats has its own inquiry process that helps the team focus on each segment of the discussion. The questions that each of the six thinking hats often ask include:

  • Blue hat: What is the best way to organize this project? What is the agenda for the team to engage with each of the thinking hats?

  • White hat: What information is available? What information is missing?

  • Red hat: Which outcomes feel appropriate? What strategies feel right for this project?

  • Black hat: What are the drawbacks to this process? What are the risks? What are the barriers to completion?

  • Yellow hat: What are the benefits and advantages of this solution? What value can these outcomes have?

  • Green hat: What alternatives or solutions remain undiscussed? What other connections are there?

Go through each hat as a team

It's important to discuss and apply each of the six thinking hats with everyone on your team. This way, team members know what to do and they can practice broadening their ways of thinking about an idea. When each team member feels involved with the process, collaboration and communication are often more effective and can lead to successful outcomes.

Related: Four Types of Communication (With Examples)

Monitor areas for improvement

Monitor the implementation of the six thinking hats method to identify areas for improvement. Consider ways to enhance team members' participation when using all six thinking hats. By sharing the blue hat thinking role, you may foster leadership skill development in your team.

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