Learn, Connect, Do – “The Thinking Environment”

Just to put it out there early, today was probably the best CPD experience that I have had the pleasure to experience, EVER!

In advance of todays event Helen asked us to think about our desired learning outcomes and questions that we would like to raise around the wellbeing agenda. My personal reflections in advance were as follows:

Desired learning outcomes

  • Influencing leaders to take wellbeing seriously
  • Most powerful metrics/evidence to support wellbeing agenda
  • Insights from peers as to their challenges and solutions
  • How to better position wellbeing as a value adding topic

Questions that I personally wanted to answer from this event:

  • Who ‘owns’ wellbeing strategy?
  • Can you train improved wellbeing within leadership / management?
  • What if senior leaders are not interested in wellbeing?
  • When an organisation is cash generative/highly profitable, how to make the senior leadership team take wellbeing seriously


The sessions today were led through a combination of Helen Amery of Wild Fig (@WildFigSolns), Janice Keyes from Mind over Matter coaching (@janicekeyes) and Andrew Harris (@AndrewFit4Work) from Fit to Work.

The main facilitation technique for today was “The Thinking Environment” by Nancy Kline, a new one on me honestly. A number of delegates today had come across it, some had read it, some had the book but have not read that book as yet, however wherever people were coming from, this technique gripped everyone very quickly.

Helen explained the background to this technique which has 10 key components. She highlighted the most important 4 for the evening due to time limitations as follows:

  • Attention (no interruptions, everyone in the room having a voice and a chance to speak – a great leveller for both introverts and extroverts)
  • Equality (hierarchy, seniority etc are all completely removed in this process. This made me reflect on the value of www.belbin.com team roles as a model for building strong teams based on identified strengths and awareness of weaknesses, removing job roles and hierarchy)
  • Ease (Being present in the situation, giving ones complete focus to the current discussions right now – imagine putting your mobile down, not looking for distractions etc – actually very powerful and exciting in today’s always on society!)
  • Diversity (valuing difference and in fact seeking difference) I personally see huge value in this aspect, actively ensuring that ‘groupthink’ does not take hold

Some of the basic ‘rules of engagement’ for this thinking environment process are:

  • A single, key focus question rather than just metrics (for example) as a review topic for the thinking environment
  • How do we get to XX? Why do we do YY?
  • Everyone gets to speak
  • No jumping in / systematic process
  • Getting all ideas on the table before building a review of any strategy / follow up questions

This last point I especially loved and it was incredible throughout the two sessions to see pretty much ever delegates viewpoint or belief shift to some degree, showing the genuine value of an open mind and desire to listen, and even adopt, someone else’s point of view.

A really moving statement for me was when Helen emphasised that everyone has a “positive psychological choice” to make about whether they choose to believe that everyone is inherently good, capable, creative and able to do great thinking of their own. This would be and I am confident is, a huge challenge for those at senior levels who are not used to allowing themselves to be seen to be vulnerable/have development areas.

Examples of burnout / high pressure at work were reviewed, a key factor adversely impacting wellbeing.  This is an issue close to my heart as I personally  experienced this myself in 2016 when I had what I affectionately call a ‘mini meltdown.’ As such, however organisations decide to view wellbeing, the business and employee case is very real.  Wellbeing, including mental health, is not a soft option.

Fit for Work

Andrew Harris (@AndrewFit4Work) from Fit to Work was very entertaining and engaging in his description of “8 expensive errors in wellbeing strategy” that organisations can make, in no particular level of importance:

  1. Not getting buy in from the top
  2. Not presenting a clear business case
  3. Failing to invest
  4. Telling rather than empowering
  5. Think its all about gyms and free fruit
  6. Too much, too soon
  7. Failure to train and educate line management
  8. Avoid reinventing the wheel
  9. Not using workplace health champions (the bonus error J )

When one looks at the above list of errors, it is easy to see how any of these can easily be applied to pretty much all HR/L&D/OD interventions that we as practitioners endeavour to design, promote and implement.

From recent and personal experience, not getting buy in from the top, too much, too soon and failure to train and educate line management are the three that I see the most often.

One of the funniest moments of the night came from @RhodriStanford  who poignantly tackled the topic of ‘work/life balance.’  He challenged the notion (my interpretation and poetic licence! – please correct me Rhodri if needed) that we are humans outside of work between 5pm and 9am the next day, but when we clock in at 9am for work we somehow die for the next 8 hours before being to return to humanity 8 hours later.

This whilst funny hit a nerve for me.  In reading about Deliberately Development Organisations (DDOs) such as @nextjump recently in the book An Everyone Culture (fully recommend to anyone that cares about workplaces or human beings), there is an awful lot of talk around setting up your organisational and workplace culture to allow colleagues to bring ‘their whole self’ to work.  To not have to waste any time on the ‘2nd job’ of covering backside, saying yes when really you mean no, playing politics etc  This plays strongly into this notion of genuine work/life balance which in summary to me should be rephrased, when working well, as “living,” whether at work or at home.

Learning take-aways / What next?

  • When I reflect on my desired learning outcomes, I was arriving with too many assumptions. That wellbeing was already ‘a thing’ and that it was well understood and that it would be easy to explain. Through my 1-1 thinking environment exchange with Eileen, I ended up right back at the start; really asking the fundamental question of “what does wellbeing even mean?” to myself, my organisation and wider society


  • That  organisations  led as if they are still in the 20th century / outdated hierarchical structures etc have become increasingly inhumane. The very notion that wellbeing is deemed to be an area of focus tells us that the health and wellbeing of both organisations and those that work for them, is a problem.

This made me reflect on the following article about Teal organisations.  I see and hear about way too many organisations still operating as Red, Amber or at very best Orange organisations.  Wellbeing, as I learned at this event, could be a differentiator in moving towards Green or Teal.


  • Practice the thinking environment facilitation model at work – real value / innovation envisaged within a specific business area where I feel the team members will engage


  • The word ‘calm’ was used by a number of delegates at the end of the evening. When did you last spend 3 hours with a bunch of people you did not know at all or at best, only a little, and finish the 3 hr meeting with productive, thought provoking ideas to take away and feel ‘calm’ at the end of it. In addition, all delegates felt a genuine desire to connect and keep in touch as the experience was genuinely moving, certainly for me personally.The extra value I took away from the thinking environment framework of openness, calmness and a genuine desire to listen and be listened to, was amazing to experience and to see.


  •  Investigate the link between organisational wellbeing and wider societal wellbeing – are they aligned at all?


  •  What do organisations (ours) understand wellbeing to cover/represent? Is there misalignment?


  • Review @patricklencioni Organisational Health model in his book “The Advantage” – does it link to wellbeing as we know it?

I look forward to seeing/receiving the flipcharts from @WildFigSolns from the session as it was incredible how pretty much all of the room moved, in some way, from their original thought process to a different, alternative view through the thinking environment process. I reiterate this point again deliberately as it was so powerful to see human beings deeply collaborating, listening and wanting to learn.


I am hooked on #LearnConnectDo after only two visits. I see Learn, Connect, Do as not only a desire but a necessary part of my CPD long term.


4 thoughts on “Learn, Connect, Do – “The Thinking Environment”

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