How to Inspire Curiosity In Your Team, Part II

March 12, 2020

The upside of a frustrated employee is that they often voice opinions that result in positive change. But a bored employee? They can be unmotivated and uninspired to produce innovative work.

Preventing stagnation leads Chicago managers to look for new ways to inspire curiosity in their teams. Leadership development programs, lunch-and-learns and even happy hours are all opportunities for employees to interact across departments, bounce new ideas off colleagues and develop their professional careers. 

These activities inspire managers as well. At CityBase, Design Manager Devin MacDonald said the company hosts a professional show-and-tell where employees can demo anything they’ve worked on that week.

“Seeing all the amazing things my peers are creating certainly inspires curiosity in me,” MacDonald said.

In part two of a two-part series, five managers across Chicago tech shared strategies for inspiring creativity in the workplaces and the results that can follow.

 

 

drw
drw

For Talent Development Lead Lauren East, curiosity is fueled by career development. Fintech company DRW recently launched a leadership development program geared toward managers. Once the program is completed, focus groups will evaluate the initiative’s strengths and weaknesses so future members can optimize their development.  

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

As part of the talent development team at DRW, my mission is to help others foster their curiosity for learning. Many of my conversations with employees involve requests for ways they can further their skill sets at work. These requests can range from leadership providing more constructive feedback to learning about technical topics to improving programming skills. That’s why our team decided to implement an online learning experience portal, which allows employees to take an idea or question and turn it into a learning pathway that includes content, tasks and opportunities to practice or hone a specific skill. It also gives employees across the globe a way to be more collaborative with each other through sharing and group discussions. This portal has given everyone at DRW the opportunity to foster their curiosity and I am excited that we have such a concrete way for employees to follow a passion or learn a new skill.

Many conversations with employees involve requests for ways they can further their skill sets at work.”

 

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

One of my favorite aspects of the company culture is that a good idea can come from anywhere. I see people inspiring each other every day to stay curious and adapt to change. For my team, that means always soliciting feedback from participants during and after training sessions. 

Recently, we launched a leadership development program geared toward managers. Throughout the program, we gleaned insights from participants about what was successful, but also where there was room for improvement. One thing we noticed was that the training resonated with people in some roles more than others, so we decided to take it one step further by setting up focus groups with these participants to get more context. 

Simply digging into their feedback allowed us to create a more tailored program. We are constantly looking for ways to help employees operate at peak performance, navigate changes and grow their careers. Keeping open relationships with everyone and soliciting feedback is one way our team stays curious.

 

kapow
kapow

“Asking questions is a good thing around here,” Product Manager Tom Zeien said. To motivate curiosity at event-booking company Kapow, leaders host lunch-and-learns and happy hours and encourage discussion. Cross-departmental activities lead to breaking down social barriers and provide space for employees to ask tough questions. 

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

It’s important to hire for curiosity or at least be upfront about the expectation. The pace at which we create along with our desire to innovate requires a curious mind that's driven to find new and better ways of doing things. 

Asking questions is a good thing around here. Breaking down both departmental and social barriers is paramount. Barriers hamper curiosity, so cross-departmental activities and cultural characteristics like candidness are important to cultivate. We do things as small as sit in other areas of the office to host company-wide lunch-and-learns. Even happy hours can help; it's easier to be curious when your spirits are high.

It’s important to hire for curiosity or at least be upfront about the expectation.”

 

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

My favorite activities are lunch-and-learns. Everyone at Kapow has a catered lunch together while the product team walks through an upcoming or recently released initiative. It’s an open forum where everyone asks questions and shares their thoughts. 

The discussions are always very lively and enlightening. Open conversation could be jarring for companies not accustomed to various opinions flying around, but at Kapow, I see it as a healthy level of curiosity. It’s a sign that everyone at Kapow is comfortable, thoughtful and passionate enough to ask tough questions and share their thoughts.

 

arity
arity

Head of Marketing, Design, Research and Communications Lisa Jillson said human-centered design is at the core of the culture at Arity. By considering the human inside the system, team members come up with innovative solutions to best serve the customer. To better align employees with human-centered design methodology, Arity provides workshops and training sessions.

  

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

Since our brains are used to functioning within a routine, we are used to doing things the same way time and time again. Processes and systems help build efficiency, but over time, we end up focused on the system and not on the human in the system. 

At Arity, we build curiosity into our workplace by encouraging a culture of human-centered design.  Human-centered design is a practice of thinking about the human inside the system. How might we innovate within this system so that the human (not the process) is best served? We emphasize practices that embrace observing the human in the experience and understanding the challenges and opportunities that these experiences represent. Our goal is to find the intersection of useful, usable and desired by the user.

We build curiosity into our workplace by encouraging a culture of human-centered design.”

 

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

At Arity, we have invested in free, on-site training for human-centered design methods that everyone in the organization is encouraged to take. To date, 30 percent of total employees have participated in the workshop and we are holding training every six weeks in 2020.  

From ethnographic research to problem-framing methods, we build participatory exercises into our everyday work. One example of this was when the marketing and design department built problem-tree analyses on how to create more engagement and inspiration.  

 

supernova
supernova

Jaramee Finn, controller, recommends the book Principles by Ray Dalio as the guidelines for creating a culture of curiosity. Beyond reading, whiteboarding and “the marshmallow challenge” are two ways employees at fintech company Supernova break down walls in order to create a space where they feel comfortable to get creative.

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

The culture of curiosity is deeply ingrained in our team. Our CEO, Tao Huang, bought the book Principles by Ray Dalio for all employees and encourages us to follow the messages in the book. The life and work principles outlined in the book are about relentlessly finding the truth to drive curiosity. Encouraging curiosity in our team goes beyond simply ascribing to the tenants of a book, however. We emulate this in our daily work, fostering a culture where everyone is encouraged and expected to ask tough questions and lead with curiosity.  

I love seeing teams solve complex problems by whiteboarding a solution.”

 

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

As a practical point, our curiosity is constantly shown through whiteboarding. I love the energy in the office and seeing teams solve complex problems by whiteboarding a solution. 

My favorite company meeting we’ve ever had was the “marshmallow challenge.” Employees were separated into teams and given marshmallows, tape, string and spaghetti and tasked with constructing the largest free-standing tower. Not only was this activity incredibly fun, but it was also a great exercise that afforded us the unique opportunity to see the diverse skill sets (and competitive nature) of our team on full display.   

 

citybase
citybase

Design Manager Devin MacDonald and his team don’t believe in settling. With a core value to “challenge everything,” MacDonald creates a space for curiosity and collaboration in which departments are encouraged to work with each other to solve problems. At CityBase, the curiosity of employees is piqued through weekly demos and employee presentations. 

 

How do you create a culture of curiosity?

One thing that I often hear at CityBase is “challenge everything.” I think that notion feeds into a healthy culture of curiosity. I encourage that culture in my interactions with everyone here at CityBase. I ask our graphic and product designers to take that approach in every project they work on. I also encourage the product managers and engineers that we partner with to challenge our design approach and solutions. By encouraging that “challenge everything” mentality, I hope that I’m creating a culture of curiosity, but also fostering more collaboration.

All of these things — curiosity, collaboration and challenging assumptions — are intertwined. That’s how some of the best products are created. 

Create a sense of safety.”

 

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

Create a sense of safety. I think a lot of people, and especially designers, are curious by nature. But it’s not always easy to voice that curiosity. It’s often much easier to go with the flow. 

Whenever one of my team members comes to me with something new they want to learn, whether it’s a new program, skill or a conference they want to attend, I’m always excited to hear more about it. I listen to what it is and how it can help us grow as a team and company and then figure out how to make it a reality. That excited attitude hopefully shows the rest of the team that when it comes to learning and growing professionally, nothing is off-limits. 

In a larger context, I think CityBase does a great job of inspiring curiosity. Each week we have demos for anyone in the company to share what they worked on that week. Seeing all the amazing things my peers are creating certainly inspires curiosity in me. On top of having that outlet every week, each person presenting is always more than willing to take extra time to talk more about their project with anyone that’s curious enough to learn more. 

 

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