Vital Actions: Building trust through rounding

February 20, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership, ,
Michigan Medicine CEO Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., right, and Chief Communication and Marketing Officer Rose Glenn, second from right, go rounding in CES.

Approximately a 3-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • Asking a question with intent to find the answer improves communication between two people, builds trust within a team and even helps strengthen a culture of accountability.
  • The Michigan Leadership Team is using this form of humble inquiry as they round with employees across the organization.
  • The rounding objective is to identify ways to improve processes and encourage communication.  

To humbly ask a question. On the surface, this HRO skill doesn’t sound like much, but when used to thoughtfully interact, it can improve communication between two people, build trust within a team and even help strengthen a culture of accountability across an organization.

All the more reason why members of the Michigan Leadership Team (MLT) decided to refresh their HRO Humble Inquiry Skills prior to rounding with employees.

The leadership rounding sessions, which began in December, were established in response to Vital Voices survey feedback from faculty and staff which indicated high levels of burnout and a need to improve communication. The rounding objective is to identify actions to improve processes and encourage communication.  

Humble inquiry uses open-ended questions to begin interactions with others. By remaining curious and not making assumptions, the person asking the question can foster trust, and reduce what others might perceive as a power distance between themselves and the person talking to them. This will make it psychologically safe for others to speak up.

Personal gestures can also be welcoming during these interactions, according to Janet Palmer, organizational effectiveness consultant and executive coach, Human Resources, who observed positive humble inquiry skills during MLT executive rounding sessions.

“It was exciting to see humble inquiry skills happening organically when I joined Michigan Medicine’s Chief Executive Officer Marschall Runge and Chief Marketing Officer Rose Glenn during their rounding session,” Palmer said. “As soon as Dr. Runge started a conversation, he pulled up a chair and sat at eye level with the people he was talking to, which is such a wonderful thing to do. It makes everyone feel at ease. I understood later that he had learned this at medical school.

“Rose made a point of listening very intently, nodding and taking notes as people talked which makes others feel that their comments and perspectives are being considered,” Palmer added.

The rounding sessions reminded Glenn to lean on her HRO skills to ask more follow up questions when employees were sharing their input.

“Our frontline team really had some great suggestions and when we ask the right questions, we can learn so much more,” she said.

According to Palmer, the most powerful questions are often short and simple. She suggests, for example:

“How can I help?”

“How does that work?”

“How so?”

“Tell me more about that.”

Want to learn more about Humble Inquiry?

The refresher course taken by the MLT is similar to a two-hour course which has already been taken by approximately 1,000 Michigan Medicine employees so far. “Create Trust by Asking Questions: The Art of Humble Inquiry,” is available to faculty and staff through this registration page: Quality Department Internal.

The class is based on Amy Edmondson’s book, “The Fearless Organization” about psychological safety and Edgar Schein’s work on Humble Inquiry.

For more resources about Humble Inquiry or other HRO leadership skills, visit this HRO site

Humble Inquiry tips

Here are a few ways you can adopt Humble Inquiry when connecting with others:

  • You can begin a conversation with, “I’m going to ask a few questions to understand,” to show your intention to listen.
  • Ask questions such as “What have you tried or thought of trying?” or “What’s possible?” encourages innovative thinking.
  • Ask questions for which you do not have the answer (versus leading questions).
  • Ask one question at a time, allowing the individual time to formulate their response.
  • Allow the response to guide the next question.
  • Remember to say “Thank you for sharing your concern or idea,” to encourage future sharing.