Reflective practices allow us to evaluate ourselves and our teams, enhance creativity, and dedicate time to deep thinking – but how do we actually achieve this in practice?
Buildings reflected in puddle

In our previous article – Learning from the NHS: Why we should adopt reflective practices – we discussed the benefits of reflective practice. Now, we’ll take you through how to actually rewire your thinking and adopt reflective practices into your daily routine.

Practical advice for managers wanting to learn more about being a reflective practitioner

Reflective practice is an accessible concept open to us all, however, it takes time and commitment to establish oneself as a reflective practitioner. Professionals proactively and willingly engage with the reflective practice in order to get the best out of it.

Reflection is a personal process

There is no right or wrong way to reflect, but there are different approaches and a variety of tools available to support a structured approach. Exploring these different models can help managers select an appropriate tool for the situation they are reflecting upon. Some useful models include Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle; Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle; Johns’ Model of Reflection; Driscoll’s ‘What?’ model and Jasper’s ERA cycle. A simple online search (such as on CMI’s ManagementDirect) will bring up details of these models.

The power of writing to aid reflection

Writing and logging your thoughts is a useful part of your reflective practitioner’s toolkit and writing a reflective journal helps you record experiences, facilitate learning, support understanding and enhance problem solving, creativity and thinking skills. Having journal entries made over an extended period to look back on can also provide a measure of one’s professional development over time. The process of writing itself can also be therapeutic!

It doesn’t need to be done in isolation

Group reflection is a useful tool when it comes to reflective practice as it can not only lead to ideas or actions that can improve professional practice, but also builds trust within a team. Group reflective practice also provides alternative perspectives and insights, along with a safe space for learning from others.

Creating space and time

Managers should ensure that their teams are encouraged to allocate time and space for individual and group reflection in order to support their learning, improvement and personal growth. It is all too easy to sacrifice the time we had planned to allocate to reflective practice, as we become caught up in the pressures of our roles. However, noting that time is our most precious resource, once we do commit, we can quickly find that investing time in reflective practice does yield impressive gains in both the quality and efficiency of work. Through this investment, we can all become more efficient in our work relieving some of the inherent pressures within our roles.

Critical and reportable incidents

Reflection should not substitute or override other statutory processes or processes mandated by policy that are necessary to record, escalate or analyse significant events and serious incidents. Managers should however encourage reflective practice to take place in parallel to in order to aid understanding, learning and improvement moving forward. In doing so, one should focus on feedback and descriptions of events in order to further understanding.

Reflecting isn’t a post-mortem of failure

We can all learn from when plans go awry or projects do not work out as planned. It is critical to remember that reflective practice is not about blame, it is about furthering understanding, learning and growth. Managers should seek to ensure that teams have an opportunity to reflect and discuss openly and honestly, exploring what has happened when things go wrong or do not work out as planned in order to improve things moving forward and to enhance their professional practice. Creating a sense of ‘psychological safety’ is important to ensure that all participants feel safe and free to be able to express their thoughts and feelings.

Reflection is equally relevant in helping us to learn from positive experiences. While it is tempting as a manager to focus on what isn’t working, this can trap us in a negative cycle of thinking. According to Tony Ghaye this can make both ourselves and our teams too pessimistic about our work and trapped in what he refers to as ‘deficit-based actions’. A useful model for reflection is Ghaye’s R-model which helps us to ask ‘what is successful right now (appreciate), what do we need to change to make things better (imagine), how do we do this (design) and who takes the actions with what consequences (act)’. Being encouraged and supported to reflect upon success is important for individual wellbeing and development and managers should consider utilising Ghaye’s R model to support their reflection. From this, Reflection-for-action can come about.

Building a reflective culture

Role modelling by managers is important to ensure that a culture of reflective practice can be established and flourish within an organisation. As managers we all have an opportunity to lead by example, encouraging our colleagues and teams and incorporate these powerful processes into our professional practice.

Reflective practice is an incredibly powerful tool and plays a key role in supporting one's ongoing professional development; it helps one to create meaning from experience and transforms insights into practical strategies for personal growth and organisational impact. One should approach the start of one’s development as a Reflective Practitioner as a journey supported by a mindset of openness and curiosity, knowing that a path of discovery lays ahead.

You can read the first article on reflective practices here. Why not find out more about how to master self-reflection?

Darren Joseph Bayley BSc (Hons) MA (Mktg) MA (Sales Mgt) MBA CMgr FCMI CMktr FCIM FISM F.APS is sales director, UK & Ireland at Straumann Group.

Dr Serge Koukpaki MBA MSc (HRM) MSc (IF) CMgr MCMI SFHEA Chartered MCIPD was senior lecturer in human resource management at York Business School, York St John University. He is a senior fellow of Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).

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