How 5 Leaders Create a Culture of Curiosity on Their Teams

Curiosity cannot be learned or taught, but five Colorado leaders are proving it can be nurtured and sparked.
Written by Lucas Dean
April 27, 2023Updated: April 27, 2023

Some of the most consequential character traits an individual can possess cannot be taught — at least not through a lecture or textbook.

Qualities like curiosity, adaptability and intuition are formed through singular experiences and impacted by one’s own surroundings. In a nutshell, one’s ability to foster a culture of curiosity hinges upon their own desire to learn and share ideas. 

For leaders, inspiring curiosity demands a pragmatic approach, open communication, and a keen understanding of each individual on their teams.

“People can learn about industries, products, features and functions remarkably well, but learning to have drive, motivation and curiosity is almost impossible in my experience,” Parsyl’s VP of Customer Success, Michael Niederhauser, said. “Stating the desire for team curiosity and building a personal leadership plan to foster innovation is so important. Curiosity requires time.”

Niederhauser and four other Colorado-based leaders shared how they nurture curiosity and create an open exchange of ideas among their team members. 

 

Andrea Baker
Regional Clinical Director • Strive Health

Strive Health aims to transform care for kidney disease patients by identifying patients sooner and delivering the right care at the right time.

 

How have you created a culture of curiosity on your team? And how do you model this mindset as a leader?

The most important way to foster a culture of curiosity is to maintain an open line of communication with your team. Working remotely can make that challenging, but as a leader, it’s important to create opportunities for open, transparent conversations where team members feel safe to speak up and bring their ideas. Also, closing the loop of communication is essential to establishing trust in a team. If there is no follow-up after an important topic, the team will lack confidence in their leadership team, and therefore, be less engaged in providing input in future discussions. 

How do I model this mindset? I get into the weeds with my team. I do feel that leaders who truly understand, empathize and respect each role on the team are more likely to be respected themselves. I also coach rather than criticize someone’s performance. While metrics must be met, understanding team members’ barriers is valuable in creating opportunities for the company to improve education, support and process improvement.

 

As a leader, it’s important to create opportunities for open, transparent conversations where team members feel safe to speak up and bring their ideas.”

 

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

With every team meeting, we always either start or end with a Q&A session. Depending on the size of the meeting, I generally know who is more comfortable speaking up in large versus smaller groups. For those that prefer smaller settings, I offer one-on-ones on a routine basis. With any new workflow change, we generally have a shared document where feedback and suggestions can be submitted at any point in time, and I provide updates to the team on the status of their feedback. 

We do quarterly “fun” remote activities such as sharing photos of our “sweethearts” for Valentine’s Day, prom pictures in the spring for a team slideshow and homemade derby hat-making skills; but the highlight is when we have our bi-annual, on-site in-person meetings. Being able to spend time getting to know each other has proven to be the most resourceful opportunity to foster curiosity amongst our team. Having the opportunity to train side by side, share ideas and see people’s reactions to those ideas and suggestions face-to-face has been the most rewarding. Our team walks away from those meetings feeling refreshed, rejuvenated passion for their role and, most importantly, they feel valued.

 

 

Sheena Twomey
Manager, Account Development • Udemy

Udemy’s marketplace for learning and teaching offers over 213,000 self-paced, on-demand courses.

 

How have you created a culture of curiosity on your team? And how do you model this mindset as a leader?

I had an unconventional career path before joining Udemy, where I moved from being an account development representative straight into a leadership role. I made that jump because I naturally used my curiosity to my advantage. 

After a few months, the ADR role can begin to feel monotonous. To keep myself excited and motivated, I made a conscious effort to think creatively and discover new ways to approach my work. That meant diving in to learn about new things or figuring out the best way to solve a problem, overcome an obstacle or improve a weak area. Then, I brought back what I discovered to the team, so it also became a learning opportunity for them.

I took that mindset with me when I joined Udemy and created a teach-back schedule for every teammate to present — even me! The “teacher” rotates weekly. They teach a sales-related topic and open it up for candid and engaging discussion. Because everyone — from people fresh in the role to more seasoned professionals — has a voice and opportunity to teach and learn, this evens the playing field and inspires curiosity. We all learn from each other.

 

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

Along with the teach-back sessions, our team has a book club. We read three chapters a week and then discuss together, including tough questions related to what we read. These discussions help me figure out training opportunities for the team. For example, we read Fanatical Prospecting by Jeb Blount. As a team, we reviewed a section on the prospecting pyramid to help us identify high-propensity prospects, resulting in us working smarter rather than harder. 

Another fun way to keep things interesting is our monthly Sales Program Incentive Funds (SPIFFs). If someone on the team is feeling creative, they can pitch an idea for a SPIFF like March Madness or poker. They can also suggest a reward for hitting our goal, like a team ski day or a half day off. If someone is excited about it, I give them the opportunity to build it and run with it. Because I try to create an environment where people feel heard and empowered, it has inspired many creative ideas. I love seeing our Slack channels blow up with the energy around them.

 

Because I try to create an environment where people feel heard and empowered, it has inspired many creative ideas.”

 

Tell us about a time when a team member’s curiosity manifested in a new idea, solution or feature. What was the result?

There are countless examples. Generally, I do a lot of role-playing with our team because open dialogue helps spin up these curious and creative ideas. If someone comes to me during our one-on-ones with an idea, I not only give them my okay, but I also tell them, “This is your project. Run with it.” And they usually do.

Creating a space where people’s ideas are listened to and encouraged to be acted on has led to more accountability and has inspired the team to develop many new ideas.

 

Related ReadingHow Udemy’s Culture of Curiosity Drives Fulfilling Career Growth

 

 

Santi Clarke
Director of Content & Communication • Duda, Inc.

Duda’s no-code platform is built for companies that offer web design services to small businesses, optimizing efficiency through pre-designed templates, responsive design and SEO capabilities. 

 

How have you created a culture of curiosity on your team? And how do you model this mindset as a leader?

In the workplace, curiosity is truly a superpower. Creative teams that have psychological safety to try new things are better equipped to solve problems, come up with better ideas and feel personally invested in their work.

Creating a culture of curiosity takes intentionality and humility. For one, it means recognizing that you have so much that you can learn from your team. It also means taking the time to build trust with each team member. 

 

Creating a culture of curiosity takes intentionality and humility. It means recognizing that you have so much that you can learn from your team.”

 

One way I’ve done this is by listening more than I speak, providing space for my team to bring their unique perspectives to the table. I model curiosity by asking questions and actively listening. 

I’m also open to trying things a different way. Whenever possible, I give my team members autonomy to solve challenges on their own — stepping in only when redirection is really needed. This gives my team the confidence to think outside of the box and come up with even better solutions.

 

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

When leading a new team, I start by learning what each person on my team is passionate and naturally curious about. What parts of their job are they most excited about? What do they want to learn? What ideas do they have about what’s working and not working in the department? This sets the tone for the relationship that we build on over time. 

I also try to align each team member with projects and learning opportunities that interest them. Of course, not every task or project is going to be equally inspiring; but being intentional about matching people’s passions to their work — whenever it is possible and makes sense for the business — is a great way to foster curiosity.  

In a hybrid work environment like Duda, I also like to make the most of our time in the office. For example, I encourage my team to have those spontaneous conversations that come from hopping over to someone’s desk and brainstorming in real life. We also make time in our weekly team meetings and use our team Slack channel to share ideas and inspiration.  

Capturing those organic moments of sharing ideas — both in one-on-ones and as a team — is key to building a thriving culture of curiosity.

 

Tell us about a time when a team member’s curiosity manifested in a new idea, solution or feature. What was the result?

One recent example where curiosity has positively benefited my team is AI. While many content teams have experienced stress and anxiety over generative AI tools like ChatGPT, the content team at Duda has jumped right into experimenting with these tools in their own workflows and learning best practices. This eagerness to embrace a new opportunity has helped us increase efficiencies, overcome writer’s block, spark new content ideas and much more.

 

 

Carolyn Bugg
Executive Director, Strategy • Monigle

Monigle is one of the country’s largest independent brand consultancies and offers strategy, design, research and the world’s leading brand-asset management platform.

 

How have you created a culture of curiosity on your team? And how do you model this mindset as a leader?

As strategists, we are fueled by curiosity. This innate drive to acquire knowledge, to be challenged intellectually and to learn something — anything — new is innately inspiring to us as individuals and as a team. 

To create a culture of curiosity, we have worked hard to establish a psychologically safe team environment where asking questions, challenging hypotheses and digging beyond obvious answers is not just nice to have, it is a must-have. This requires each of us, including myself as a leader, to model the following:

First, be bold. Don’t let anything stand in the way of what you think will strategically make a difference, but don’t let your conviction get in the way of others contributing or seeing a better solution.

Second, be resourceful. Commit to finding a way to solve problems and pull from all available resources to do so.

Third, be humble. Have confidence in yourself and know this means you aren’t afraid to ask for help or admit you don’t have the answer; being humble also means you value the diversity of people and thinking around you.

Last, be uniquely you. Show up as your whole self and treat others with respect, always seeking to build productive relationships.

 

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

The best way to authentically and organically inspire curiosity in a team is to build a team of diverse individuals. 

My strategy team is made up of psychologists, anthropologists, economists, journalists, entrepreneurs and professors. We are bee-keepers, artists, writers and opera singers as well as triathletes, snowboarders and yogis, and we even have a few PHDs and no shortage of Bravo-watching junkies.

 

The best way to authentically and organically inspire curiosity on a team is to build a team of diverse individuals.”

 

We’ve studied and worked all over the world and our diversity of experience — both professionally and personally — is what makes us such a strong team of strategists. But perhaps even more importantly, it fuels an environment full of curiosity.

While we come from tremendously diverse backgrounds, the one thing that unites us as strategists is that, at our very core, we are problem solvers. We love the process and the act of finding solutions to complex challenges. We are driven by intellectual rigor — the thrill of an investigation that ultimately culminates in the real world, hard work and true impact.

Because of this, we inspire acts of curiosity across our team every day. And it is awesome.

 

 

Michael Niederhauser
VP of Customer Success • Parsyl

Parsyl provides data-driven cargo insurance and risk management solutions for essential supply chains.

 

How have you created a culture of curiosity on your team? And how do you model this mindset as a leader?

Stating the desire for team curiosity and building a personal leadership plan to foster innovation is so important. Curiosity requires time. I have a personal philosophy of being at or under 90 percent workload capacity. That extra capacity allows time to be curious about what works well and can be improved. I also help my team members manage those same targets, so there is an expectation and time for curiosity!  

I believe that creating a culture of curiosity starts with hiring people with experiences that illustrate drive and motivation, as they are naturally curious people. People can learn about industries, products, features and functions remarkably well, but learning to have drive, motivation and curiosity is almost impossible, in my experience. 

I try to set expectations from the very start that we, as a team, are constantly improving. Sometimes there are revolutionary improvements, but most often it is smaller scale evolutionary improvements. I allow time and space for teams to build confidence before pushing for curiosity and improvements. When you have confident teams that are curious, it fosters an entrepreneurial spirit in which everyone is intrinsically motivated.

 

When you have confident teams that are curious, it fosters an entrepreneurial spirit in which everyone is intrinsically motivated.”

 

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

One-on-ones and team meetings are excellent times to discuss individual passions, opportunities for improvement and the status of improvement projects in flight. I believe that these, in particular, inspire curiosity.

On day one, I share with each new hire how important innovation is to our organization. I then let them know they will be going through an onboarding process. I tell the bright-eyed team member that the onboarding process is never done, and we are going to depend on them to make as many improvements as possible, so the next new hire will have an even better experience than they did. I believe this ask and ownership of improving the onboarding process sets the stage that not only is it okay to be curious, but it is expected. The most recent cohort of new hires has absolutely changed the game for our onboarding process as a result of this ask. Before their work, the customer success onboarding process was a single functional flower in a vase. Now we have a bouquet of resources and plans to ensure each new hire has a baseline understanding of industry, contextual, functional, customer and product knowledge.

 

Tell us about a time when a team member’s curiosity manifested in a new idea, solution or feature. What was the result?

In the second half of 2022, a team member showed a great deal of curiosity regarding our customer relationship management system. He was interested in how to save time through field customization and workflows, which is a great thing, because we do not have a dedicated resource. Through his exploration and discussion with our CS rep, he discovered that we might be able to use a service module to replace our legacy inbound ticketing system. He dug in and created a business case; he mapped out dependencies within our product and successfully made the case to make a migration; he is now in the final weeks of managing the migration! This curiosity will ultimately save our organization in monthly recurring costs and give us a much more complete view of our customers. Linking service tickets and surveys like net promoter scores with customer relationship management data will definitely lead to higher retention and more retained revenue.

 

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