The manager as coach: creating an environment that is conducive to thinking

By Elisabeth Goodman, 6th October 2019

According to Nancy Kline, author of “Time to Think”, thinking for ourselves and thinking well, is what enables us to be effective in anything that we do. And yet many things mitigate against us being able to think as frequently or as well as we could.

Barriers to thinking include:

  • The hectic pace of life and work
  • The frequent, often unspoken, expectation for people to fit in and conform
  • The belief that those more senior or more expert than us know best

Nancy Kline has researched and tested barriers to and approaches for effective thinking over many years and consolidated her findings in this and later books.

Here are just a few ideas, inspired by my reading of “Time to Think” that a manager could begin to implement in a coaching capacity with their direct reports.

1. Create an expectation that people will think for themselves, rather than defer to their manager and others more senior or experienced than themselves when dealing with problems, or otherwise coming up with ideas.

2. Make time to listen to direct reports, encouraging them to talk by asking open questions and not interrupting them until they have completely finished what they have to say. This may include allowing silence as direct reports continue to think something through.

3. Extend this practice of uninterrupted listening to wider team interactions, for instance in meetings. Encourage everyone to have their turn at speaking and being listened to.

4. Make sure there are quiet or communal areas (depending on people’s needs) in the workplace where people can go to help with their thinking, and support them with finding gaps in their schedules to be able to do so.

A place to think. View from one of the 4 castles at Lastours, Languedoc, France

5. Allow people to express their feelings, including anger or sorrow, as a healthy way to release emotions that can otherwise get in the way of thinking. (If the anger is violent then get out of their way and agree a time and place when the conversation can be resumed safely.)

6. Encourage a culture of mutual respect, where people value diversity and express appreciation for what each of their colleagues contributes to the team through their thinking.


Nancy Kline’s book has a lot more to offer for those interested in helping individuals and teams think more effectively.

As she says:

“Team effectiveness depends on the calibre of thinking the team can do.”


“Managers of high-performing teams have to be masters of the oxymoron: securing change, committing to uncertainty and requiring autonomy. Formulae and habit won’t do: only thinking will.”

Hopefully you will find the ideas in this blog a useful start. I would certainly recommend you read the whole book to find out more.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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