Ep. 26: Freshest Thinking for Diversity and Inclusion


8 min read

S?: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.


Toby Mildon: Hello, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon, and on this episode, I'm joined by Mitzi Wyman. Now, I met Mitzi a few years ago when I was working in the city, Mitzi was organising a, I suppose you could call it a round table event that I went along to. And I left that event in a very different state, feeling in a very different way compared to when I entered the building. I felt really calm, I felt really grounded, and it's because Mitzi uses a really great technique, which is from the Thinking Environment, which was something that was pioneered by a lady called Nancy Kline.


Toby Mildon: Now, Mitzi and I have kept in touch ever since, we've run events together, and Mitzi continues to work within the field of the Thinking Environment, amongst other things. And it's just something that I wanted to bring to this podcast series, because the Thinking Environment is a really inclusive way of being able to conduct meetings and events, and I think that conducting meetings and events and events using some of the techniques that Mitzi will be talking to us about today on this episode is a really inclusive way of conducting meetings. So Mitzi, welcome to the show, it's great to have you.


Mitzi Wyman: Thank you, Toby, it's great to be here.


Toby Mildon: Good. Mitzi, so that was kind of my introduction to you, but it would be good to get a bit more from you. Can you just let us know a bit more about your background and I suppose what led you to working within the Thinking Environment? 


Mitzi Wyman: Sure. Well, I've got quite a mix of background. I started off as a lawyer, working in the City, but I always had an interest in people and culture in organisations, so I went off and I studied organisational psychiatry and psychology, I trained as a coach, did leadership development for several years across sectors. And several years ago, I came across Nancy Kline's work, her fabulous book Time to Think, and the follow-up More Time to Think, and in that work, Nancy really crystallised for me what made a difference in terms of when you're wanting to really engage people, when you're really wanting to have inclusive environments where people can say what they really think and others actually listen.


Mitzi Wyman: Because I think when people know that you're really interested in what they have to say, when you treat them as an equal, someone who is able to really contribute something valuable, rather than just looking at status or hierarchy or their background or the colour of their skin or whatever, but when you truly see someone as an equal and listen to them in that way, then what happens is you get the wisdom, the compassion and the courage in the room that's needed if we're to really deal with the challenges facing society. So it makes a difference for that individual, for the team, for the organisation, and society at large.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So I'm imagining that the person listening to our conversation today is thinking, "That sounds fantastic, but what exactly is the Thinking Environment, because it does sound like this big thing." So, what is it exactly? 


Mitzi Wyman: It's interesting, isn't it? Because it does sound, when I put it like that, it's a hard thing to explain to people, because really what we're saying is that, well, to quote Nancy, "The quality of everything we do begins with the quality of the thinking we do first, and that depends on how we treat each other when we're thinking." So what's going on in the meetings that we're typically sitting in? What usually happens is, two or three people are dominating, maybe 'cause they're extroverts, because they are the most senior people, for whatever reason, and others are sitting on the sidelines sometimes not really knowing whether they can speak up, or when they do speak up, they're thinking, "Oh, what am I meant to say? What should I say? What do they expect me to say?" Rather than, "What do I really think?" And so what we have to do is introduce some tools and techniques that mean that everybody has a say and people listen. So that would mean introducing rounds, and rounds are where everybody is invited to speak; importantly, you can pass in a round in the Thinking Environment, but it means everybody has a say. And when everybody has a say, and they know they are not going to be interrupted, and that they're going to get their turn, then they can listen.


Mitzi Wyman: And so that quality of attention and the equality of knowing you're going to get your turn, together create ease. And when you have that sense of ease and that calmness that you mentioned, what happens then is people can start to really think much more productively and cogently than they would otherwise, 'cause normally they're thinking, "Oh, God, what am I meant to say? What am I meant to do in this meeting?" And they're not really calm and listening. So in a Thinking Environment, we're getting the best thinking from everybody, and we're also getting the cognitive diversity that difference brings, because when everybody has a say, it means that you're starting to hear voices that you wouldn't normally hear, and this can be transformative.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, 'cause when I've been at your events where we use the Thinking Environment techniques, effectively we're sat around a big round table or sometimes a big rectangular table and one person begins, and then we go round the table clockwise. Like you say, everyone has their time to speak, there's no clock, you don't have one minute to get your point across, but as you say, you always have the option of saying, "Come back to me later," or "Pass". The pressure is off. But when I've been part of the events that you run, I suppose I've always felt like proper listening happens, 'cause often when when you're in a meeting or a conversation with a bunch of people, I suppose you're more worried about getting your point across in the moment when the timing feels right for that particular topic, but when you do a meeting in rounds, you've got time to kind of assemble your thoughts and... To collect your thoughts, basically.


Mitzi Wyman: Yeah, and I think... 'Cause typically what happens in most meetings is people are zoning out what other people are saying because they're so concerned about remembering the point they want to make and fighting for airtime, so they just relieved that they got their say in. Whereas this way, the other the benefit of it is that because you're listening and people are paying attention and you're getting your turn, it means the quality of the thinking is enhanced because you're building on each other's thinking rather than people just sort of throwing something in because they've suddenly got a gap in the conversation. And I think that's hugely important. It's not just about creating a nice meeting or a comfortable space, it's about creating the conditions where people can say what they really think, even if they vehemently disagree with each other, but you're going to get your say, and I think that's really important. But yeah, the ease is important and just people feeling comfortable and welcomed and appreciated.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, I also think that creativity goes up as well, because when I've been to your events, not only have I left feeling more at ease, I think I left with better ideas as well, 'cause we created that space for creativity and for ideas to percolate.


Mitzi Wyman: Yeah, because typically people are interrupted within 20 seconds of speaking, and so we rarely get to what I call the edge of our thinking...


Toby Mildon: Sorry, did you say 20 seconds? 


Mitzi Wyman: 20 seconds.


Toby Mildon: I was trying to be facetious there. I'm not sure if that was 20 seconds when I interrupted you or not.


Mitzi Wyman: Oh, very good, very good, I missed that one. It's interesting 'cause actually people sometimes say 11 seconds now, it's getting shorter and shorter with shorter attention spans, but I think that it means that we never get to the edge or we're just starting and someone interrupts us, so what would happen if you were actually able to think that bit further and further than that, and even further than that, suddenly you find that you're going into unknown territory, you're starting to go into the... Go beyond the edge of your thinking and rediscovering the stuff that you know, the wisdom that is inherent in each of us starts to emerge and we start to get really rich contributions, rather than what tends to be that superficial level. Because these days, one of the challenges is we're constantly interrupted, our attention is being pulled in so many different directions, that we're trying to make decisions based on superficial understanding of issues rather than having in-depth conversations.


Mitzi Wyman: I think the other technique alongside the rounds, you may remember, is we then occasionally put people into pairs, what we call thinking pairs, and I often say that anything can pair. You put people in pairs to think about an issue together for, say, 10 minutes, and in a meeting of 12 people, normally in 10 minutes, you have two or three people dominating and others may be paying attention or not, but if you use a thinking pair, in that 10 minutes, you've added 50 minutes of thinking to the meeting, because everybody is thinking, and then you come back and have a round where people are able to share then their freshest thinking, so you've... So you've sort of had a conversation about the issues, you've done a round, then you go deeper into the issues with another question where people think about it in pairs, then they come back, have another round, so in a short space of time, you've really taken people on a journey where they've really had time to think. But the key thing that we're talking about today is, it's been inherently inclusive. Everybody has been invited to participate, and that is what makes the difference.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So at the top of the podcast, you mentioned that you worked in the legal profession, and then you moved into organisational psychology. So why did you get involved in the Thinking Environment movement or way of working? 


Mitzi Wyman: I think it just spoke to me. I think anybody who reads Nancy Kline's books, you suddenly find... You're sort of liberated and you think, gosh, this is something I always knew, and someone has actually written it down because Nancy Kline says it's a discovery. It's not a tools and technique she's designed, it was discovering through observation. So a lot of people when they come across her work suddenly think, wow, this is what I've been wanting for so long. Because what I find is, and when I work with executives and coach them, they're always saying, oh, God, wish I had time and space to think. The ironic thing is they want the thing that they don't give, because they're so busy demanding stuff from their teams, people are always demanding things quickly, and that addiction to urgency and certainty and adrenaline that they don't realise that they're colluding in us all being hurried, rather than being able to slow down and think.


Mitzi Wyman: So Nancy's work really explores that and most people just find it speaks to them, and once they start to work in this way, they find, I don't want to go back to that approach where everything is a rush, everything has to be done yesterday. And we talk about replacing that addiction to urgency and the adrenaline, and certainty and control, replacing urgency, certainty and control with respect and ease and interest, and that's when you start to have much better decision-making and much better thinking. So that's what really drew me to it. It was something that just spoke to me and which I found I really needed.


Toby Mildon: That's fabulous, that's fabulous. And it is, like you say, it's an inclusive way of working together, you have that equality of thought time, working in pairs adds thinking time and creativity to the agenda, so to speak. How else does this way of working increase the inclusivity of working together? 


Mitzi Wyman: Well, there's a whole specialist piece in the Thinking Environment where we look at diversity, and at the heart of most forms of discrimination is this notion, this limiting assumption that those people... Or how can I put it? That people outside of the group was which you identify are in some way superior, and therefore you have to think and act like them in order to get on. So if you're the only woman in the group, the only person of colour, perhaps it's about your sexuality, but if you see in the hierarchy this homogenous group of people who are somehow up there, you start to think, oh, I'm meant to think and act like them in order to get on. But that's fuelling this idea that somehow you cannot think for yourself, you have to think and act like them in order to get on.


Mitzi Wyman: And that's a lie that is at the heart of discrimination, that somehow you can't think for yourself, other people need to think for you. And so when we talk about the Thinking Environment, what we're saying is that we can think for ourselves as ourselves, and once we're able to do that we're no longer trying to think like the people who hold open that door. What we're saying by having rounds and equality as thinkers, we're saying, I want to know what you independently think for yourself, not what you think you are meant to say or what you should say. I don't want you coming here editing yourself and in the way that you think you need to behave in order to have a seat at this table. It is saying difference in every sense is welcome.


Mitzi Wyman: And so it really starts to address this lie at the heart of discrimination, that you have to think and act like those people who are currently in power in order to get on, and that power might be within your team, within your organisation, within society. It's saying, we value difference.


Toby Mildon: So you do a lot of work within the leadership space, and you've mentioned to me in the past that we need to be reinventing leadership. What do you mean by that? 


Mitzi Wyman: Well, reinventing leadership is about looking at the... I guess it builds on the point I just made that we don't want to have the leaderships that we've always had, this homogenous short of leadership where the further, the higher up the organisation you go, the more you have to think like those who are currently at the executive table, because that means we're just having the same old ideas being re-hashed. What we need when we talk about redefining leadership is to welcome fresh ideas, so that knowing that the best ideas can come from anywhere, and once we invite people to think independently for themselves, we're igniting thinking and we're inviting fresh thinking, so we start to get people who are different, who have different ideas, and so we're redefining what that leadership looks like, simply because as we start to listen to people and acknowledge their talent and their skills and their abilities, then what happens is the composition of the people at that top table starts to change. So we're still at the early part of the 21st century, and we need to redefine leadership, because thinking for yourself at this point in time is still a radical act, and we want to have radical thinking and we want to be redefining what leadership looks like.


Toby Mildon: That's really great, because it'd be good for us to maybe discuss some of the, I suppose, some practical tips that the person listening to this interview could take away to get that radical shift, if you like. So the people that normally listen to this podcast are either board members sponsoring diversity and inclusion, or they are a HR director or they are a Diversity and Inclusion leader. So what are some practical tips that the person listening to our conversation could take away to start to implement this way of working? 


Mitzi Wyman: I think, really, one of the first things they can do is start to have rounds in their meetings. And the thing that goes with that is to think about what is the question that drives the round. So that means replacing agenda items, which are usually just broad statements, you know, the first agenda item might be this month's financial figures, rather than something like that, it would be what are the implications of this month's figures for the team going forward. So you're straightaway putting your agenda items in the form of questions, and then what you're doing is with that question, you're saying, okay, whoever would like to start, because with a round, you only go clockwise or counter-clockwise, and you ask for a volunteer to start, and then you wait for everybody to have had a say, and that alone can transform your meetings.


Mitzi Wyman: And can I say this works incredibly well virtually. What I do is I create a virtual circle, so whoever is in the meeting, I put them around a clock face and let everybody know where they're... What order that's going in, and that means they know when their turn is coming, they know where they are, they don't have to worry about interrupting because they will get their turn, so this works incredibly well virtually. And so I think if people use rounds in that way, have agenda items in the form of questions, that can transform meetings.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, I've used these techniques myself, so I've changed agenda items into questions. That in itself is transformational, you get so much more out of a meeting and then doing the meetings in a round, so if you imagine kind of everyone sat around a big circular table, one person kicks off, and then when they finish speaking, you then move clockwise to the next person and the next person. And then depending on how deep the conversation goes, you might end up doing one round around the table, you might do several rounds around the table. I've done it myself and you're not paying me commission for saying this, but it really does work.


Mitzi Wyman: I often say it depends what the people... Simple yes, easy no, because it seems countercultural, you always think, oh, God, but people won't like that, or the people who are the most outspoken wouldn't like it, because it does require those who are very vocal to sit back and listen and for those who are quiet to come forward. But that in itself is quite good because what it means is everybody is engaged, and actually, once you put an agenda item in the form of a question, people start thinking about it straightaway, and it also means that you need to think about what are the questions I need to ask. And you start to think, well, what's the question behind that question, why are we really asking this, and that means the quality of the meetings is much better because the questions that are driving the rounds are absolutely the right ones you need to be asking. And I think it just totally enhances the quality of the thinking, as coming back to our main point, it means you're having that inclusivity that we really need.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. I mean, I do find that, I suppose one of the things to be on the look-out for is you do need a strong chair, because there are people in the meeting who forget that you're conducting the meeting in rounds, and they might have the tendency to kind of jump in when it's not their turn, and the person who's facilitating does need to remind people sometimes that the meeting is being conducted in a particular way and why it's being conducted in that way as well. What are your thoughts about that? 


Mitzi Wyman: Yeah, I think it's really important. And I know there were times when I haven't managed a meeting as well, 'cause you know you get just... You need to do this as often as you can and you gain more confidence, because what people are wanting is clarity, and they want to just know someone is controlling the meeting, because having a turn and with a particular order, we are giving equality and that means reciprocity and a sense that everybody gets an equal amount of time. So there are times when you're A, having to tell people, oh, can you wait and we'll come to your turn, but also somebody might start talking and just go on and on and on. So what you need to do there is you need to say thank you, really appreciate that, can I just bring it back to the question? So you're sort of reeling them back in and you're being able to say, you know, thank them for the contribution and say, I just need to bring it back to the question. And of course, it may be what they've gone on to speak about is important, but you can move on to that once everybody has had the chance, so it's nobody speaks twice before everybody has spoken once in the round.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So Mitzi, this is The Inclusive Growth Show. What does inclusive growth mean to you, particularly in relation to what we've talked about today? 


Mitzi Wyman: I think we want our organisations to be growing, we want them to be successful, we want growth in the positive sense, organisations to be contributing value to society. And I think if they are inclusive organisations then that can only enhance the ability of the organisation to create and deliver value, which benefits everybody, staff members and the people that that organisation serves in the wider community, so inclusive growth and inclusivity must be at the heart of growth.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant, thank you, Mitzi. And just as we come to the end of our conversation today, if the person listening to our interview wants to get hold of you, learn more about the work that you do and how they could implement the Thinking Environment within their own way of working, what's the best way of doing that? 


Mitzi Wyman: Well, they can contact me at mitzi@mitziwyman.com, and I'll be able to send them details of the courses that I run regularly on the Thinking Environment. These can be open courses or I run bespoke courses for organisations. And if they'd like to contact me, what I can do is send them a handout explaining how you run rounds in a meeting so that they will get straightaway something they can use to good effect.


Toby Mildon: Excellent, thank you ever so much, Mitzi, thank you very much for joining me today. As always, I love talking to you. It's always very enlightening and enjoyable to chat with you. And thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Mitzi today, I hope you found it useful. Maybe got some inspiration on how you can run meetings or create a more inclusive environment where you work using the Thinking Environment techniques that we talked about. If you do want to learn more about the work that Mitzi does, please do get in touch with her through her website or through her email address. Until next time, thank you ever so much for listening, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Show.


S?: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.