How can you run your meetings to ignite people’s independent thinking and generate the best ideas? I went to a professional development event for coaches this week about the value of independent thinking and ways to create space for it at work. It resonated with my recent experiences working with corporate and individual clients. Here are some insights and tips to share with you.

The greatest gift we can give each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves – Nancy Kline

Nancy Kline has written two books – A Time To Think and More Time To Think – both inspiring and practical. At their heart are a system, principles and behaviours derived from years of observation and working with people in business that she calls a Thinking Environment. There are two core features:

The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.

The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.

The reality of many people’s experience of meetings is a litany of poor behaviour and no time to think. How many times have you been in a meeting and your idea gets killed by a frown from someone else? How is it there is always time to do the wrong things, rather than time to think? How often do you get interrupted when speaking because of another person’s desire to respond and inability to really listen? How’s your blood pressure?

Kline advocates thinking for yourself,Meetings - attitude as yourself, and building in structures to meetings to help you create quality time. She identifies 10 conditions that support a Thinking Environment. The first three make the most significant difference to teams. I’ve added a question that each condition may prompt. You can complete a free online self-assessment to get an indication of which components you are already creating and which you could develop further.

  • Attention – being so fascinated by the other person you don’t want to interrupt

          What fascinates me about this person’s thinking?

  • Ease – being with people in a way that shows your comfort with them

         How can I/we behave in a way that makes this person feel comfortable?

  • Equality – as thinkers, so that we get the best thinking from the whole team

         “What does each member of the team think?”

  • Information – offering it as and when they need it, respecting independence

         What information can I offer lightly? When would be the right time for them?Meetings - skilful

  • Feelings – acknowledging your own and other ‘s feelings and expressed appropriately

        “How do you feel about that?”

  • Appreciation – helping people to think about what is going well

        “What have you valued about this meeting?”

  • Encouragement – moving beyond the person, not comparing with others

       “What more do you think?”

  • Diversity – divergent thinking, making it safe to think differently

      “What do you now think? What is your freshest thinking?”

  • Incisive questions – getting to the heart of a matter, uncovering assumptions

     “What are we assuming that is limiting us?”

  • Place – conducive external environment and internal sense of place

      ‘Where do you do your best thinking?”

Here are a couple of techniques for creating a better thinking environment in meetings. They provide a way for unstructured, independent thinking to take place in a structured way.

  1. Thinking Pairs allows two people to think well, freely and in a safe way. Invite people to pair up at the start of a meeting and give each other two minutes uninterrupted time to answer the question ‘What would you like to think about?’ It enables them to connect with each other and learn to listen with eyes, ears and mind.Meetings - Disciplined
  1. Thinking Groups involves the same process except with more people. Ask one person to share their thinking on an issue, then go round each person in one direction within a specified overall time. It gives ownership to the group to self-manage and not over talk. Keys to success are the quality of attention people give, not being afraid of silence and not interrupting.

How do you think you could start being a thinking environment?