Much has been written about the challenges of leading a team in today’s climate and the essential skills required to improve the way we work together, so no doubt leaders are clear about what they need to do. What is often less clear is how to do it.
As a leader:
- Do you understand the need for a psychologically safe and inclusive environment but aren’t sure how to create it?
- Are you looking for tried and tested ways to engage your team members and harness their collective brainpower?
- Do you want a practical framework to make employee well-being integral to your team and/or organization’s culture?
In our experience, leaders are looking for some simple, practical, and immediately applicable solutions for how to lead with more impact and create a healthy workplace culture.
One solution fundamental to leadership at all levels – self, teams, and organizations – is the internationally acclaimed work of Nancy Kline, author and pioneer of the framework for independent thinking, known as the Thinking Environment®.
Based on the premise that the quality of our thinking is critical to the outcomes we achieve, the first job for any leader is to ensure people do their best thinking. To recognize and accept we don’t all think the same; that compliance and groupthink are the enemy of creativity, psychological safety, and inclusion.
An organization and team need to thrive in an environment conducive to independent thinking.
So…. how do leaders help people think independently and do their best work, individually and collectively?
Treat others like they matter – because they do
While it sounds obvious, some subtle, often unconscious, habits may be sabotaging success.
Do any of these resonate with you?
- Do you allow people to interrupt others in meetings? Do you interrupt when someone is talking?
- Are you giving your undivided attention as you listen?
- Are you genuinely interested in hearing, and considering, what others think?
- How often are you relaxed and unhurried when you interact?
- Do you welcome and encourage cognitive diversity?
- Do you give everyone (regardless of hierarchy) the same opportunity and time to say what they think and feel?
- Do you make time to appreciate others for who they are and what they do?
As Thinking Environment Practitioners, to date, we have observed ten ways of treating others that enable them to think, to be, and to contribute fully as themselves in all they do. These are called “The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment.”
Here are a few practices you can expect from some of these components in action:
- People are at ease, even when they’re busy. They slow down and agree not to interrupt each other, or themselves.
- Boundaries and agreements regarding communication and collaboration are clearly defined and adhered to.
- Everyone’s ideas and contributions are regarded as equal, so they are granted the same level of respect and consideration.
- Information required to help people think well is provided on a timely basis.
- More people will speak up because they feel seen, heard, and valued.
As a leader, when you adopt any single one of the behaviors, people around you will think and perform better. When you use all ten behaviors, and it becomes how you always lead, communicate, and do business, relationships, collaboration, and productivity will significantly improve.
At the heart of leading in a Thinking Environment is Attention’s subtle and powerful expertise. This is a very different kind of listening from others you may have encountered. The intention as you listen is to ignite independent thinking and then keep the sparks alive rather than extinguish thinking at the earliest opportunity in favor of responding with your own thoughts and feelings.
Most importantly, you promise not to interrupt. Anyone. At any time. Uninterrupted attention has a profound effect on the quality of thinking. When you know ahead of time you will not be interrupted; it creates an ease that frees the mind to think.
Neuroscience supports the negative impact of the interruption. Our emotional reaction (e.g., defensiveness, resentment, anger, discouragement) triggers the threat response, releasing stress hormones into the limbic system. Those are the same hormones the brain produces during a physical assault. So, it’s unreasonable to expect others will think creatively and feel safe enough to risk speaking up if they are interrupted while thinking or speaking.
This simple notion of “not interrupting” will go a long way to building relationships and creating psychological safety.
Trust the independent thinker in yourself and others
Any team or group will think better together when every individual commits to thinking for themselves for as long as possible and when they commit to giving uninterrupted and sustained attention. Like any change, it starts with some decisions: to trust, to be courageous, and to be interested.
Ultimately, an independent-thinking workforce is just that – a force. Attentive, smart, efficient, adaptable, and engaged. All of which saves time and money – and what’s not to like about that…?
If you wish to know more about leading in a Thinking Environment, click here to watch video: A leadership conversation by Gülcan and Hazel: What is the Thinking Environment, why it’s helpful for leaders, and some tips on how to use it to lead with ease and impact.