You don't know what you've got til it's gone
A bit of a cliché? Perhaps. Also a line from one of my favourite songs by Joni Mitchell, that was way ahead of its time.
True though, isn’t it? We take so much for granted. Our partners, parents, jobs, security, health, and (as Joni Mitchell sang about back in the 70s) even our planet. All of the things that we hold most dear in fact. Crazy really.
It seems it can be true for culture too.
In the team I work most closely with, we’ve been thinking in rounds, promising not to interrupt each other, and offering plenty of appreciation for a few years now. We’re not perfect, but the principles and practice of the Thinking Environment have gradually become the way that we do things.
Recently, we decided to take this a step further, rolling out the Transforming Meetings™ programme across the team, to develop a deeper understanding of why we do things the way that we do. On the learning journey I guess this step aligns to the idea of increasing conscious competence.
Personally, it was wonderful to take some of the people I love to a new depth of learning in the work that I love. It was a really successful couple of days, that deepened engagement, and improved connection between individuals too.
A moment of clarity
Anyway, one of the team had a stunning moment of clarity during our first day that has really stuck with me.
A few of the team had taken part in a meeting in the couple of weeks before, which was far more traditional. Questions were asked of the group, and people answered. But there was no thinking in rounds, no invitation to every individual to speak, no specific appreciation. And during that meeting, two key members of the team had barely spoken. That pervasive norm had crept back, where 30% of people do 90% of the talking in meetings (recognise that pattern?).
In gaining a deeper understanding of the theory behind why we hold our meetings in the way we do, that experience came to mind for my colleague. He suddenly appreciated what we would miss, if we didn’t hold all of our meetings in a Thinking Environment.
“I’ve just realised we wouldn’t have Michael’s input and insights, and how much worse off we would be if we lost them!”
Thinking in rounds, encouraging, welcoming and valuing every single person’s contribution, means that we hear from even our most introverted thinkers. Knowing how insightful and rich their input so often is, the realisation fully landed, for all of us in that moment, just how much poorer we would be without it.
And it’s true. For all sorts of reasons, many people, in any group often just won’t speak unless invited. Sometimes because they think others’ ideas are better, sometimes because they think their thoughts lack value, sometimes because of anxiety or fear of exposure or ridicule. Sometimes just because they haven’t been asked directly to do so.
Rarely though, is it genuinely because they have nothing to contribute.
So, if we want to hear from them (and believe me – we do!), we need to change the expectation.
Make it normal to expect their input, and value it equally to that of the more confident, louder, extroverted people in the group.
When I try to explain the Thinking Environment to people, as a system designed to produce independent thinking, I often see scepticism. Perhaps rolling of eyes. The implication being “I don’t have time for this fluffy nonsense”.
I haven’t yet found a succinct way of explaining the potential that it truly offers. “Read this book” or “come along and experience it for yourself” is a tricky sell. (I’ll get there, many do explain it well, I’ve just not nailed my way yet – I’m not a short and concise kind of girl!).
I am not sure how you do it justice if I’m honest.
How do you explain in a couple of sentences, a set of principles and practices that, if applied well, get the best thinking (and so, value) of every member of a team.
A way of being with each other that inherently increases psychological safety, creativity and diversity of thought. A system to support every individual in thinking at their best, as themselves.
An underpin to culture that you really miss when it’s not there.
Other than to say – just give it a try, and see what you’re missing!
If you would like to have a conversation about how the Thinking Environment could improve your culture, and encourage everyone's input, I would love to hear from you. Please do get in touch, or drop me an email.