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“Seeing Around Corners” in Diverse Teams

Posted on December 12, 2012 by: Lisa Koss

We were facilitating an offsite this month for a new global team and soliciting the group for norms they would like to establish when working together.  “Curiosity,” said one.  A conversation ensued about the importance of seeking to understand each other and withholding judgment.

It was a wise add.  Adding curiosity as a behavioral norm for the leadership group is one that we often bring up when groups are getting to know each other and/or learning to work together better.  Many times, high-powered leaders lean more toward advocating when they speak, preferring to make strong statements in order to influence each other and assert authority.  But curiosity, or inquiry, is the other end of that continuum, and is a critical skill for every leader.  Without inquiry, the group can’t easily learn from each others’ experiences, and cannot leverage it for the benefit of the team.

A similar finding with a different nomenclature came out of research1 done in 2011.  In four international companies, the research found that a way to bridge gaps in tacit knowledge was to “create an awareness of what the company ‘did not know that it did not know’ which would inevitably influence its behaviors and knowledge-creation activities…”  In other words, one way to build skills in curiosity, or increase the amount of inquiry, is to systematically remind people of the perils of its blind spots.  Blind spots are created because we, as leaders, do not have all the experiences required to see “around corners” because our limited experiences make our perceptions unreliable.  And so we need to learn from each other in the room to help illuminate those corners, to add to our own experiences, and to broaden our perspectives.  Remembering this truth in diversity creates different outcomes in moments of high-stakes strategic decision making, as well as in the fundamental processes of building team trust.  For either purpose, we are all well advised to stay curious.

 

1Glisby, M. and Holden, N.,(2011). Global business and organizational excellence. Wiley Online Library. Doi: 10.1002/joe.20396.

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