Opening the Curiosity Conversation

Published: May 10, 2022

The fastest way to eliminate possible explanations is to reach an obvious conclusion. Clinicians in the behavioral health field are taught to stay curious. If a likely cause presents itself, therapists hold it as a diagnostic ‘maybe’ until further evidence either cancels or corroborates the possibility. The urge is to rush to judgement when things don’t make sense. An answer – any answer – closes the uncomfortable gap of not knowing. Wisdom lies in enduring the discomfort and asking the question, “What would need to be true to make this data make sense?” Now let’s apply this to your team.

Assessment data always unveils a narrative. When something appears weak or strong, there’s usually a host of variables. When something seems to be pervasive or an outlier, numerous factors are at play. Root cause analysis relies on what’s called a fishbone diagram where the spine of the skeleton is supported by branches of smaller bones, each contributing data to the explanation. The story grows clear when you take the time to look at every possible contributor.

Why, for instance, did this cluster of trees fall in this particular configuration? Was it random? Did they already have a co-dependent relationship that required them to lean on each other? Are the fallen trees providing fuel and support for the standing members of their community? Was there an unprecedented storm that traumatized the entire forest? More importantly, how does the history narrative drive the likely future of this cluster?

Here are a few examples of assessment revelations we have seen when the metrics open up the curiosity conversation.

  • Low alignment with team vision with high disparity of opinion: The curiosity conversation unveiled a narrative in which the previous leader had departed for a new opportunity and the team had split into factions of either tolerant support or active undermining of the new leader.
  • High consensus of opinion with low ratings of respect in the workplace: The curiosity question revealed a small but powerful subset of the team enforcing an “us vs. them” agenda by making it unsafe for new teammates to contribute contrary perspectives or new ideas.
  • High appreciation for differences with high consensus of opinion: The curiosity question shined a light on a strong bond between the creative and engineering departments where the common goal of innovation fueled exploration and discovery.
  • Low disparity of opinion with high adaptability: The curiosity question unleashed a story about a team being pulled together by a crisis in which an unexpected failure required an all-hands-on-deck response in order to ensure business survival.

Every picture tells a story. Imagine all the possible storylines that led to that moment. Remain open-minded until the narrative and its consequence begins to make sense. Stay curious and skeptical so the weird intricacies of team dynamics have a chance to tell their story.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.