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Introducing the Thinking Environment®: A Catalyst for Business Agility


Introduction

Agility is more than an industry term; it's an essential foundation for business longevity. However, the journey to real Business Agility often ends up in superficial adjustments rather than profound change. Enter Nancy Kline's revolutionary Thinking Environment®—a framework to foster independent thinking and generate top-notch ideas. Applying the Thinking Environment to Business Agility can be nothing short of transformative.


The Ten Components of the Thinking Environment®

Before we delve into how to apply it, let's first understand the core components of Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment:


  • Attention: Listening without interruption and with interest in where the person will go next in their thinking.

  • Equality: Regarding each other as thinking peers, giving equal time to think.

  • Ease: Discarding internal urgency.

  • Appreciation: Noticing what is good and saying it.

  • Encouragement: Giving courage to go to the unexplored edge of our thinking by ceasing competition as thinkers.

  • Feelings: Welcoming the release of emotions.

  • Information: Absorbing all the relevant facts.

  • Difference: Prioritising diversity of group identity and understanding their lived experiences.

  • Incisive Questions: Freeing the human mind of untrue assumptions lived as true

  • Place: Producing a physical environment - the room, the listener, your body - that says “you matter”.


Leadership Insights: Transforming Team Dynamics with the Thinking Environment®

Embracing the Thinking Environment® has significantly influenced my leadership approach. Specifically, the principles of Attention and Equality have allowed for a more empowered, engaged team. Applying this framework in team meetings and one-on-one sessions has generated a noticeable uptick in constructive dialogue, innovative ideas, and overall team morale. This alignment between team dynamics and business agility has been pivotal in my leadership journey.


Applying the Thinking Environment® to Business Agility

1. Attention

In the quest for Business Agility, giving your undivided attention to each team member can unearth insights often buried beneath the surface. When people feel genuinely listened to and know they won’t be interrupted, they can take time to think. They can pause, reflect and come up with their best thinking about agile transformation strategies.

Practical Application:

"In team meetings and one-on-one chats, agree that no one will interrupt anyone else. The practice of not interrupting isn't as straightforward as it sounds because it can be difficult to know whether someone has finished speaking or is merely pausing to collect their thoughts. To mitigate this issue, agree that when a person takes their turn to share their thoughts, they will explicitly inform the group when they are finished speaking.


For example, consider a team member presenting a radical idea for an agile transformation. By paying undivided attention and being curious about their thoughts, you can create questions to understand more. Innovation will increase by fully understanding the idea before dismissing or adopting it. This isn't just good management; it’s the hallmark of Agile leadership.


2. Equality

Gone are the days when the loudest voice in the room governed decision-making. A culture of equality ensures that everyone, regardless of rank or role, has equal opportunity to contribute to the agile transformation conversation.

Practical Application:

Utilise round-robin techniques in meetings to ensure every voice is heard. Some people are extroverts and some introverts; if you find that some people are taking much longer than others, agree that everyone times their contribution and takes no longer than a pre-agreed time.


Demonstrating equality doesn't end in team meetings. As a leader, you should actively seek feedback from all team members and stakeholders. This creates a ground-up culture of continuous improvement.


3. Ease

The tyranny of the urgent can be a significant stumbling block in agile transformations. Temporarily setting aside urgency allows people to think with clarity and make better decisions.

Practical Application:

Before going into any agile sessions or meetings, switch off all push notifications, e.g. emails, phones, slack, etc. They can wait. Allocate ample time for agile planning sessions and retrospectives. Facilitate these sessions in a way that gives everyone time to think. Resist the temptation to rush decisions.


Avoid a frenetic pace that may deliver speed but not value. Relax, breathe, and focus. When you make decisions calmly, you do more than just choose wisely—you lead by example.


4. Appreciation

It’s common to focus on what’s wrong and needs improving; cultures often see appreciation as naive. Giving genuine appreciation of qualities in team members and teams boosts your team's spirit and increases meaningful progress on your Agile journey.

Practical Application:

Regularly spotlight and reward the qualities of your team that increase agile adoption.


A well-timed word of appreciation can make all the difference. In company-wide meetings, make it a habit to call out qualities people have shown that have contributed to the agile journey. It builds a culture where each milestone becomes a launchpad for the next.


5. Encouragement

rue agility involves stepping out of your comfort zone. Creating an atmosphere of encouragement enables team members to try new practices and approaches without fearing failure. One crucial aspect of this encouragement is eliminating competitive behaviour, especially when sharing ideas. It's all too common for people to interrupt others while they're still speaking, eager to finish others' ideas and claim them as their own. Such interruptions are more frequent in environments that lack psychological safety than those that cultivate it. Fostering a culture that acknowledges the collaborative nature of thought and problem-solving enhances innovation across the team.

Practical Application:

Encourage calculated risks by supporting team members in trying out agile practices that they're curious about but haven't yet embraced. Recognise everyone’s contribution in creating ideas at the unexplored edge of their thinking.


It's easy to applaud success, but remember to support team members when innovation attempts don't pan out as expected. Instead, see this as a learning opportunity. This is critical for establishing an environment where people are unafraid to take smart risks.


6. Feelings

The human side of transformations can't be overlooked. Creating room for emotional responses enhances the quality of thinking. If expressing feelings is met with disdain, individuals may hesitate to speak their minds for fear of appearing emotional. Such hesitance can result in difficulty focusing and concentrating. However, fostering an environment that welcomes the expression of emotions can yield valuable insights into challenges and opportunities.

Practical Application:

Kickstart your retrospectives or planning sessions with a 'Check-In' round to discuss concerns and feelings openly.


No tool or method can outperform human intuition and insight. Allow space for the team to share their feelings about challenges, roadblocks, or even apparent successes. This often brings forth valuable revelations that wouldn't emerge from data alone.


7. Information

Informed decisions are effective decisions. Transparency isn't just a lofty ideal but a practical necessity in achieving Business Agility. We need to consider all information, even that which goes against what we understand and believe.

Practical Application:

Regularly share updates, celebrate wins, and discuss any hurdles you encounter during your Agile transformation journey. Share the importance of being honest about data even when it does not support the beliefs of others. Look at the facts concerning data integrity. Is that team psychologically safe enough to record data honestly, or must they game it to avoid blame?


Access to relevant information shouldn't be a privilege but a basic right for each team member. Ensure that dashboards or real-time progress trackers are visible to all.


8. Diversity

Different viewpoints strengthen the transformation process, helping build an agile framework to handle all sorts of challenges.

Practical Application:

Build cross-functional teams and engage stakeholders from diverse departments and diverse backgrounds in the transformation process.


Make a conscious effort to include perspectives from different geographies if your organisation is spread across multiple locations. Aim to understand the differences they have experienced and the impact this is having. This enables a more holistic agile transformation that caters to the nuances of each area.


9. Incisive Questions

Challenging assumptions are embedded in the Agile mindset. Each day, we operate on a set of assumptions: the pavement will support our weight, and the air will be breathable. These assumptions are logical. However, we also make unfounded assumptions—such as the belief that our ideas won't impact Agile transformation or that we have no role in influencing prioritisation. Employing sharp, targeted questions can dispel these mental obstructions and pave the way for more effective Agile transformation.

Practical Application:

When you hear someone making an assumption that might not be true, ask them “Do you think it’s true?”. If they’re unsure, ask them what their reasons are for thinking that it is true”. Then listen and let them think.


Questions should be timely. Be wary of when you ask these questions. Timing is as crucial as the question itself in eliciting honest, useful responses. A meeting with senior leaders where a person does not feel safe may not lead to an honest response.


10. Place

Last but certainly not least, the environment you create for these conversations is paramount.

Practical Application:

Pick a quiet meeting room or a reliable online platform so everyone can focus and engage in a meaningful conversation without distraction.


A well-designed workspace or virtual meeting room can significantly boost the team's productivity and mood. Include visual elements that reinforce the agile principles you are adopting.


Challenges and Solutions: Overcoming Roadblocks in Thinking Environment® Adoption

As with any transformational initiative, applying the Thinking Environment® has its challenges. The primary obstacle is often entrenched organisational culture resistant to change. Strategically, fostering a Thinking Environment requires ongoing education, leadership buy-in, and potentially, restructuring existing workflows. Your commitment to overcoming these barriers is a testament to your agile acumen and builds a more resilient and responsive organisation.


Future Outlook: The Uncharted Territories of Business Agility

Adopting the Thinking Environment® is not a destination but a journey. The framework offers promising avenues for enhancing Business Agility through intellectual freedom and inclusive discussion. Future initiatives might include scaling the Thinking Environment® principles to multi-team agile programs or integrating them into customer engagement strategies.


Conclusion

Incorporating the Thinking Environment® into your Business Agility initiatives elevates the conversation beyond the mere adoption of agile practices. It ensures holistic engagement, intellectual freedom, and buy-in from all organisational members.


Mastering the art of integrating the Thinking Environment® into your agile initiatives offers something far beyond superficial change—it promises a cultural shift that resonates with every stakeholder. The beauty lies in the balance it provides between human intuition and strategic methodology. Don't just see agile transformation as a box to tick but as a rewarding journey to relish.

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