If your team is not curious, it will continue to tread the same paths as before. It will not question the information that comes from outside, and it will not be genuinely interested in your customers’ problems. 

No team can be perfect right from its first steps. Good teams are the result of development and learning. Even if you put a bunch of superstars in the same team, they would not play well together without practicing, and without learning cooperation and the right moves. 

Teams that remain curious will open new avenues and experiment with new things. It is the culture of experimentation that forms the basis of agility.

You need to be curious to learn and improve

What is the basic requirement for efficient learning? It is curiosity, just as is highlighted in this study. Even the greatest genius of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci, thought his greatest strength was curiosity: to find out how things worked and to make observations.

Without curiosity, the only purpose of learning would be to avoid pain, not to find new solutions. Studies have even shown that curiosity increases your body’s dopamine levels, which then stimulates the brain in a similar way that certain drugs would.

Be curious to be Agile

A team cannot be great if it doesn't produce great results. And for that, they need to be acutely aware of what to deliver and to whom. The basis of everything should be that the team knows what is expected from it. 

  • What do the customers need? 
  • What kind of problems do they have? 
  • How have they received the new features? 
  • How will the product or solution be used? 
  • Who will be using it? 

Teams cannot hit the target without knowing these things.

Curiosity means knowing the “why”

The team should aim to discover, in every way possible, what the result should be like. Therein lies the real challenge of great product development. Creating the result is much easier than discovering the true goal.

Teams should always ensure they know why they are building something. An organization with curious teams that always have a clear “why” for everything - they know people will ask, so they have the answer ready - has a higher level of trust. 

If teams just blindly obey, without questioning, it can easily result in unnecessary things being built.

Great teams have internal curiosity

A good team makes sure that information and competencies are evenly distributed among the team members. 

A good team is flexible. For example, developers can assist in testing, and others can help the Product Owner in defining stories. A siloed team, with very distinctly defined roles and competencies, is not a team: it is a group.

The first step in learning is curiosity. The team gains much from having members that can do many things. Activities that fosters the team’s internal curiosity are, for example: 

  • listening more actively in dailies
  • volunteering to try new things
  • making team rules to avoid always assigning same kind of tasks to the same person
  • sharing learning experiences
  • applauding when someone takes a step in a new-for-him knowledge area

This curiosity about the other team members should also extend to know them as persons. What their hobbies are, what makes them happy, and what they want to grow to become. 

Really knowing your colleagues will make the team thrive. 

How to not kill curiosity

It is hard to cultivate curiosity in the team, but it is easy to kill it. To keep curiosity alive in your team, avoid the following things like the plague:

  • intense fear of failure
  • overvaluing processes and certainty
  • “need to know” mentality and knowledge compartmentalization
  • “One truth”
  • Lack of diversity in the team
  • Hierarchical culture
  • Rush - focusing on quick deliveries and constant interruptions

Agile does not guarantee curiosity: you need leadership

Agile ways of working enable, but do not guarantee, curiosity. Nurturing curiosity in the team is the responsibility of Agile leaders – such as a Scrum Master and Product Owner. They can choose to either suffocate or encourage asking questions. 

Good Agile leaders promote questions in all Agile ceremonies - questions that focus on different things. Here some examples:

  • Backlog refinement & Sprint planning
    • What is the customer problem?
    • Why is this thing needed?
    • What is the complexity?
  • Daily
    • Have we learned anything while implementing?
    • Is anything difficult?
    • Are we progressing toward the sprint goal?
  • Sprint review
    • What feedback can we get on the thing we built?
    • Would we be happy to release it as is?
    • What would we do differently next time?

The power of example cannot be over-emphasized – if the Scrum Master and Product Owner themselves act in a curious way and encourage and listen to team members, curiosity in the team can grow.

If you want to increase curiosity in your teams and organization, you have to find the change agents to do so. Many times this means training Scrum Masters, Product Owners and other managers, such as product managers. 

Published: April 25, 2022

Product management