Time to Think

As part of my new role at Coventry University Online I have been exposed to the world of the ‘Thinking Environment’. This is, in essence, a series of practical, value-based exercises intended to inform and share a pedagogic and coaching approach to how we work and collaborate (Wikipedia). I think. 

I say ‘I think’ as it is all still very new to me and can be very confusing. I’m not completely engaged with it yet but I’m gaining a greater understanding and appreciation with each instance the approach is used and implemented. What it is doing, however, is encouraging a structure and collaborative, consistent approach across the whole business to how we work and work with each other.

Based on the work of Nancy Kane, the summary of thinking environments is that “the quality of everything that we do depends on the quality of the thinking that we do first.

The 10 components of Time to Think and the Thinking Environment are the basis of creating an open and collaborative working environment, which are:

  • Attention: Listening with palpable respect and without interruption.
  • Equality: Treating each other as thinking peers. Giving equal turns and attention. Keeping agreements and boundaries.
  • Ease: Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency.
  • Appreciation: Offering genuine acknowledgement of a person’s qualities. Practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism.
  • Encouragement: Giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition.
  • Feelings: Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking.
  • Information: Supplying the fact. Dismantling denial.
  • Diversity: Welcoming divergent thinking and diverse group identities.
  • Incisive question: Removing assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves clearly and creatively.
  • Place: Creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter”.

If you’re interested in more, then this PDF available from Southampton University is a good place to start:

“Everything we do begins with thinking. If our thinking is good, our decisions are good, our actions are good, our outcomes are good. So, what does it take for us to think for ourselves – with rigour, imagination, courage and grace?”

How does this look in practice? Meetings often start, or should start, with a reminder of the premise and basics of the Thinking Environment; trust, respect, inclusiveness, appreciation, etc. Team and progress meetings will then have a short round-table opportunity for everyone present to highlight or bring to the groups’ attention a key update or success story, if the meeting scope permits it. Throughout the meeting the chair will often issue reminders about the components listed above, not necessarily to stop the flow of the meeting or indeed because discussion is getting out of hand or order, but to ensure everyone is mindful of the meeting scope.

The meeting will end with a further round-the-table opportunity, this time for each member to show ‘appreciation’ to the person to their left (or right, it doesn’t matter). 

What this is doing is reminding everyone present that there are individuals present, not just representatives of roles and/or departments. By enabling, through process, the opportunity for everyone to have time and space to have their voice and experience heard (‘equality’) without interruption (‘attention’) and that these voices have value (‘diversity’). 

More on this as I/we develop the thinking environments work.

Image source: Jesper Sehested (CC BY-2.0)