Oh no! You killed your team’s curiosity!

Without you even noticing it, you might have instantly decreased the curiosity levels of your team in just one meeting. It happens every day in organizations around the world.

Jane is a senior leader in a consultancy firm, working on a pitch for a possible new client. There is a lot at stake, not only for the firm, but personally as well. Due to the Corona pandemic, her results have not been as solid as she’d hoped for. Signing on this client, might finally get her that promotion.

During a team meeting, in which her team was supposed to present their ideas for the pitch, Jane immediately took the lead. She presented her own ideas first. She did ask her team for feedback, but when they came up with suggestions to add to or change some parts of her idea, she shut them down. “Great ideas, but we are not going to change it. I have been working very hard on this, and I think the client will very much appreciate it. This will get us that new client”

Whether or not Jane’s idea will persuade the client to hire the firm, from now on Jane will be on her own. In just one meeting, she killed her team’s curiosity and motivation to strive for amazing results. Her team had worked very hard on their ideas and were excited to present her the results. But Jane wasn’t interested in their ideas or their feedback. They only had to do what she decided was best.

Meetings like these happen on a daily basis in all types of organizations. Companies say they value curiosity, but in practice they don’t encourage it. On the contrary even. A study by Tod B. Kashdan, a professor of psychology at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University, underscored this problem.  They found that while 65% of workers said that curiosity was essential to discover new ideas, virtually the same percentage felt unable to ask questions on the job. And 84% reported that while their employers encouraged curiosity, 60% said they had also encountered barriers to it at work.

Breakthrough discoveries and innovations never were the result of remaining the same. As Albert Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.”

It has been proven that curiosity leads to fewer decision-making errors, more innovation and positive changes, reduces group conflict, more open communication, and better team performance. Then, why would companies act this way?

A Harvard Business School Professor, Francesca Gino, discovered there are two barriers to why leaders don’t encourage curiosity:

1. They have the wrong mindset about exploration.

Leaders often shy away from encouraging curiosity because they believe the company would be harder to manage of people were allowed to explore their own interests. They also believe that it will lead to disagreements and making and executing decisions would slow down, leading to higher costs.
Exploration often involves questioning the status quo and doesn’t always produce useful information. But is also means you are not settling for the first possible solution, like Jane did in her meeting. Jane obviously had not heard of the saying “you can go faster alone or far together.”

2. They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration

Research shows that after six months of working for a new company, curiosity levels drop with the average decline exceeding 20%. Most people start a new job with high levels of curiosity and are willing to ask a lot of questions. After six months, because they are under pressure to complete their work quickly, they felt they had little time to ask for questions about broad processes or overall goals.

You might think you would never act like Jane. However, Jane is no exception. Being a leader, we tend to think we need to know it all. We like to stay in control. And when we are under a lot of pressure (especially if it becomes personal), we might act differently than we would like to imagine.

Also, we are afraid we might look incompetent if we are indecisive and ask for help. Leaders think they are expected to talk in meetings and provide answers, not ask questions.

Gino explains in her study that such fears and beliefs are misplaced. When leaders demonstrate curiosity about others by asking questions, people like us more and view us as more competent. The heightened trust makes our relationship better and your people are more willing to explore and remain curious and come up with more creative outcomes.

Promoting curiosity leads to motivated teams and better results. By showing you don’t know everything and ask questions, you show that you value the process of looking for answers and motivate others to explore as well. Be open to other possibilities. People may surprise you!

I would love for you to think about Jane’s position. Have you been in a similar position? How did you act? Could you have acted differently to get a better result?

Let’s stay curious!

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