April 28, 2017

The importance of place, why internal environments matter

By William Buist

environmentsIn recent years, I’ve spent a lot more of my time speaking at events, or training my clients, so have recognised the crucial role of internal environments. Having the right place for such activity can make a tremendous difference to the effectiveness of any talk, training course or coaching/mentoring session.

Working on a couple of events with a friend of mine, William Buist, we got talking about the impact that the environment had on those breakfast briefings.

The thoughts that William shared afterwards, with the event organiser & myself, struck me as useful for all leaders to consider. So, I’m delighted to share a guest post from William on the theme of ‘the importance of place‘ & how it can impact our ability to think in different ways.

I hope it helps those of you leading or coaching teams, as creating thinking environments matters for all those helping ‘knowledge workers’ generate value.

Over to William for his insights, from much longer experience.

Spotting the subtle stuff about our environments

I’ve run Mastermind groups for many years and they are enormously powerful gatherings that lead people to both expose elements of their business, and themselves, to scrutiny in ways that create powerful insights and knowledge. I’ve learned that they need to be expertly facilitated to enable that to happen. They need to be confidential, and powerfully so, or participants will hold back, constraining the value they can both give and receive.

More importantly I’ve learned that there’s a lot of subtle stuff happening too. Where people sit, what the light is like, the view from the room, the quality of the air, the temperature, the opportunity to speak, the willingness to listen. Many of these things are ignored, but the best mastermind facilitators will use them to encourage and motivate attendees for the best results for all.

Seeing the difference with the same group in different environments

I remember in 2015 I first held a mastermind meeting at the wonderful Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly, London. Its first floor meeting rooms were spacious and naturally bright with views over Green Park. By carefully keeping the person whose topic we were considering in sight of that wonderful view, we noticed a shift in the language. People became expansive and spoke of what was on their horizon, because they could see one. When given time to contemplate a complex question they looked outwards, and upwards, seeking inspiration perhaps from the wide openness of the vista. We often talked about how we formed strong visionary insights in that room, set long-term goals, thought more broadly.

With the same group we also held meetings in the IoD on Pall Mall in London using their business centre. A clinical, white-walled room with good light but no views, this environment created introspection,. People spoke in shorter sentences, internalised questions, reflected better on what had been, could not project as well about what was to come. In the Athenaeum we planned, at the IoD we reviewed.

Becoming aware of your options and analogies

Intractable problems confront us every day. We tend to seek to resolve them by talking to others face to face. We literally confront the issue. What happens if you go for a walk instead. You shift yourself to be shoulder to shoulder with the person you are talking. You share the same view of what is coming, You step out together and the language too will shift. You’ll talk about the journey to resolution about travelling, moving forward –  because you are. In the midst of the biggest projects I’ve run we often walked to find solutions to impossible issues, and always did. Often things that held us back for days, resolved within minutes of walking together.

All these examples highlight that the environment is critical to what we do. Our knowledge, skills and experience are shaped and moulded by how we feel and the way we feel is influenced explicitly or implicitly, overtly or subtly by what is happening around you, what you breath, the heat of the sun, or the air on your skin, the smells and sounds. All of these can be harnessed and used by the skilled facilitator to ease conversation and open minds to greater insight.

What to consider, about environments, depending on your goals

For all of us though the following is worth bearing in mind…

If you seek to plan:

  • Find a well-lit area to work, have a clear view of the horizon and be comfortable and warm.
  • Face windows with a clear view of the horizon. If there is a group, rotate the view so everyone has time to become expansive.
  • Speak in the future tense.

If you seek to review:

  • Find a place with bright light, but no view. Surround yourself with visual clues to what you are reviewing, Work to a deadline.
  • Place mirrors so you can see yourself.
  • Speak in the past tense.

If you seek inspiration:

  • Walk if you can as you think and discuss ideas. If something feels wrong, stop and retrace your steps for a moment or two.

Most of all though, play with your environment. Reflect on what it teaches you, and become adept at harnessing its power. Always enjoy it.

What places work for you?

Thanks to William for those thoughts, much more information about his services is available on his website.

What about your options, as a leader? Are you considering ‘place‘ or ‘environment‘ when planning your interactions with others?

Perhaps more focus on location (as we’ve suggested before) could help a number of interactions be more effective. How might your meetings to influence key stakeholders, plan with your team, or benefit from your mentor, be improved by a change of environment?

If you’ve found some locations more effective, do let us know what works for you.