How to Inspire Curiosity in Your Team

by Stephen Ostrowski
March 20, 2020
Ripl, Inc Seattle

PHOTO: Ripl, inc

Curiosity in the workplace isn’t just a nice to have: it’s a need to have.

Professor Francesca Gino made a compelling argument for its value in her 2018 Harvard Business Review article, “The Business Case for Curiosity.” According to Gino, curiosity can reduce errors in the decisions we make and spur innovation. Additionally, curiosity can help deter group conflict, boost communication and augment performance.

Cultivating and sustaining a culture of curiosity can encompass a wide variety of strategies, like holding product demos, hosting team gatherings and collaborating cross-departmentally. 

“Exposing your teams to other ideas, methodologies and problems that stimulate us to think differently is essential,” said VP of Information Technology John Sage of domain provider Donuts.  

For Carrie Byrne, director of creative at social media marketing software app Ripl, being curious means stepping out of comfort zones and being inquisitive.  

“We openly encourage wonder and propose ‘what if?’ scenarios,” said Byrne. “In doing so, we seek to unlock the potential for our technology, design and customer experience to achieve greater things.”

 

At Donuts, championing curiosity hinges on an appreciation for the unknown — or, as Sage said, “an appreciation for the ‘not yet’ in your life.” To put that ethos into practice, the team conducts lunch and learns, demos and other activities to expose employees to new ideas. 

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

Curiosity is about developing an appreciation for the “not yet” in your life. Exposing your team to other ideas, methodologies and problems that stimulate us to think differently is essential. It teaches us to approach life differently and helps cultivate a mindset that views challenges as a positive medium for growth and development. Inspiring others to see the big-picture view helps us see that there is more yet to be discovered and more worth discovering. We think that’s just more fun. 

Inspiring others to see the big-picture view helps us see that there is more yet to be discovered.”

 

What are some things you do to inspire curiosity in your team?

We encourage this in several ways as an organization. We do regular team demo sessions where we demonstrate a new technology or a recent project to our peers. We also hold lunch and learns that cover  interesting topics, host fun team activities, air the occasional inspirational video and work with employees on personal or professional goals in their area of “curiosity.”  

For example, an employee was sharing his personal interests in a team session and indicated he did 3D printing at home. Someone asked if he could create a lifelike Oreo for a gift, and the challenge was on. Outside of tasting it, he did quite a fine job.

 

Carrie Byrne
director of creative

“Experiment often and early” is a key phrase for Byrne and the team at Ripl, where “what if?” is an encouraged question. Taking an empirical approach paid off for Ripl: an employee satisfaction survey led to the creation of a customer engagement day dedicated to better understanding client needs.

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

Our workplace is a safe environment that’s free of judgment to ask questions, take risks and experiment often and early. We recognize and celebrate trying new things or finding new ways of doing old things. We openly encourage wonder and propose “what if?” scenarios. In doing so, we seek to unlock the potential for our technology, design and customer experience to achieve greater things. 

We openly encourage wonder and propose ‘what if?’ scenarios.”

 

What are some things you do to inspire curiosity in your team? 

Our company is always looking for better ways to serve its employees and our customers. One way we do this is through surveys. Last quarter, after an anonymous employee satisfaction survey, it became apparent that there was a disconnect between our team and the actual customer experience with the product. As a result, we began a new series of customer engagement days where every employee gathers in small groups of three to go into the field and learn about our customers.

Each group picked a centrally located business district in Puget Sound and spent the day intercepting at least 10 small businesses. The groups spoke with business owners and employees to learn about a day in their life operating and promoting their business. The groups were cross-functional, bringing different experiences and perspectives to each conversation. The resulting insights — and team bonds — provided a platform for greater customer empathy and higher levels of collaboration through the quarter. Customer engagement days are now regular events on the Ripl company calendar.

 

Mari Hegyi
people team director

With software that focuses on employee well-being and engagement, it’s no surprise that curiosity is championed at Limeade. According to Hegyi, that translates into hackathons, guest speakers and the company’s “anything is possible” day.

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

We believe that growth as individuals and as a company is vital to creating a successful employee experience, which is why we have a culture of improvement here. A big piece of having a growth mindset is demonstrating curiosity. At Limeade, we set and reinforce our culture through our six values: “own it,” “be it,” “we’re a team,” “anything is possible,” “speak plainly” and “delight our customers.”  

We also behavioralize these values so that employees have a clear understanding of what it means to live out our culture of improvement. Some of the criteria under “be it” is to ask questions, be curious and seek to understand the bigger picture. We encourage our employees to be curious, dig deep and make connections to non-obvious things. We then continue to cultivate our culture by recognizing employees that live out our values through recognition, performance management and growth opportunities.

A big piece of having a growth mindset is demonstrating curiosity.”

 

What are some things you do to inspire curiosity in your team?

We look to find opportunities that inspire curiosity in our employees in several ways. Those include utilization of our Limeade program, bringing in speakers from the community and hosting initiatives and activities in the office, such as hackathons or our annual “anything is possible” day. 

Recently, we celebrated and promoted Black History Month. Throughout February, employees were encouraged to participate in different activities through our “TeamLimeade” program. Activities included attending a black history event, volunteering and educating oneself. We leveraged our office environment to put up flyers about important black innovators that have impacted the technology field. Additionally, we blocked off an afternoon to watch “Hidden Figures,” which showcased the work of three brilliant African-American women who made lasting impacts at NASA. 

Discussing race is radically important and also incredibly difficult. We want to create a space at Limeade where employees can learn about concepts and where curiosity is safe, encouraged and expected.

 

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