December 10, 2006 by
Filed under: People 

One of the things that I have found to be very powerful in bringing teams together, while at the same time severely lacking in most teams, is a sense of curiosity.

In order to deal with the massive onslaught of information that heads our way, we have built up an uncanny ability to compartmentalize, synthesize, and simplify. We extract only what we see as relevant to our task at hand, and filter out the rest of the information as irrelevant. We may cache it away to refer to later, but we rarely find the time to go back and revisit that data.

In the process of this simplification, we have a tendency to go with the assumption that others are working within the same context that we are. To reflect, recognize and appreciate the differences in our perspectives is a luxury that few of us leverage effectively. This appreciation, though, brings a great deal of strength to our relationships. There are simple things we can do to help us gain a deeper understanding of others, centered around the idea of curiosity.

Of all the value that the Diagnostic we run with a wide range of organizations, I’d say that one of its greatest strengths is the ability to expose the wide range of perspectives of the group. With everyone giving their views of how effectively they are leveraging a variety of practices and how this impacts the performance of the group, there will invariably be wide differences across teams, and often within a team as well.

When the differences are exposed, this generates interest. There is always some aspect where your response varies dramatically from the rest of the group, and it makes you sit up and take notice. Curiosity drives you to ask a few questions. Anything from “What the hell have I been thinking?” to “Why do you see things THAT way?”.

The resulting engagement opens the lines of communication, and everyone gains a deeper understanding and respect for the perspectives of others. Rash assumptions of shared understanding are often shattered, and the team as a whole benefits from the experience.

Walls are knocked down. They really are humans over there after all.

In working with a group a few weeks ago, we did a couple of things that were not technology related, but were focused on opening windows onto the perspectives of others. We started off the session with a series of questions including things like ‘identify some group achievement you are proud of’, and ‘tell us a little-known fact about your group’. Still work-related, but not so detailed or technical as the questions from the Diagnostic. People seem to relish the opportunity to tell others about their successes, and the rest of the group was quite engaged in hearing these things.

Perhaps this is because we seldom make the opportunity for doing this with our crazy schedules.

Another thing we did that evening as part of a dinner was to play a game we called “Who am I?”, where each person provided responses to questions like ‘If you had a theme song, what would it be?’ and ‘if you could invite 2 people to dinner, who would they be?’. We built it into a bit of a game where each person was assigned a mystery person to identify, and we gradually fed them clues over dinner. Again, we had everyone’s rapt attention, everyone was fully engaged.

The common finding about all three of these experiences – the diagnostic, the meeting icebreaker and the dinner ‘who am I?’ game – is that we all learned something about others that was different than our preconceived notion, our simplified model of others’ context that we hadn’t previously bothered to dig into. Our curiosity was piqued.

Discussion of the results in all cases flowed into the following days, which brought the teams closer together. If ignorance is the basis for all prejudice, then insight likewise brings about camaraderie.

While this result is something I have seen with teams for a couple of years with the Diagnostic, it was interesting to see the same result as we move away from work-related insights. What this tells me is that pretty well any questions will do – we tend to oversimplify a broad range of the perspectives of others, and we all find value in gaining an understanding of these different perspectives.

We are all naturally curious. There is great value in fostering this desire in the workplace as a means of bringing our teams closer together. – JB

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