Time. Now there’s a fluid thing. I had a Thinking Partnership session where time was the topic most on their minds. As leaders we schedule in tasks according to the time available. We expect our teams to undertake tasks within a timeframe that we have set. Priorities shift and timescales are shifted accordingly. When things are not done ‘in time’ or ‘time is too short’ stress levels rise, performance drops or quality of output diminishes, or customers get angry, or the Director will blame someone for their failures.
The question arose because we have quick-fire TP sessions, usually 20 minutes. The thinkers are experienced in the Thinking Environment and Time to Think (which is why quick-fire works) and they know how thinking flows. They know that there are implicit assumptions in all our thinking and instinctively look out for them. It makes for a more rapid unravelling of problems and finding of solutions. But then, this time, the decision was made to experiment, to extend the TP session to 30 minutes.
It was fascinating how, by having that extra 10 minutes it initially inhibited thinking. Why?
The reflection was that somehow, the thinker ‘had to fill the time’. It put pressure on them, an added stress which meant they weren’t at ease – one of the 10 components of a Thinking Environment. And interestingly, at 20 minutes there appeared to be a natural conclusion of thought, a fit inside the usual pattern, but by not interrupting, a new, fresh wave of thinking appeared. The mind, although originally inhibited by the change of routine, relished the freedom from time.
I ask a question. Are we so locked into our clocks, by the regulatory nature of an arbitrary division of the day that, as leaders, we too inhibit our thinking?
I pondered on that. What would happen, I asked myself, if we forgot time and focused on the question inside the issue? Would that take away the pressure of an artificial construct and allow our minds to be enough at ease to generate deeper, more profound thinking and a richer, more comprehensive solution? And, importantly, would we be able to do that in 30 minutes – or 20 – or less?
Accepting that there are always implicit assumptions that we make, assumptions that block our thinking and solution finding, I suggest we would. I’ve found that by increasing the number of times we use Time to Think in our interactions with others, the more skilled we all become in generating that higher level of thinking that is displayed within Thinking Partnerships. It’s a skill that is simple in concept but complex in practice and one that needs encouragement and reinforcement.
As leaders then experiment with your own time frames. Investigate your own perceptions and assumptions about time and ask your team to do the same. Realise your own thinking inhibitors and embrace or discover for yourselves, new thinking enhancers.
But first, think of the question that sits inside the issue for you around time, performance and stress. You may well find that this activity on its own is enough for now. And when it isn’t, that is the time to discover more about how the Thinking Environment and Time to Think can provide freedom from time.
Laura Murphy blogs about things that interest her. They might not interest you but read them anyway. It might even change your mind.