The Power of Curiosity:
How New Perspectives Made One Leader and Her Team Closer and Stronger
Tami Quiram has spent her life in analytical work. The weekends are for family and water sports from racing sailboats to water skiing—weather permitting—near her home in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area. But during the week, Quiram is a self-professed “numbers person” who has spent most of her professional life in the complicated, demanding world of insurance.
She has also had more than a passing interest in innovation: “I don’t understand not trying to do things simpler, easier, better. Why wouldn’t you?” she asks rhetorically.
These days, grounded in a commitment to, as she puts it, “affordable, comprehensive and patient-centered health care,” she is President of Large and Small Group Insurance for Humana, as well as Enterprise Vice President for this sprawling, Louisville, Kentucky-based corporation, one of America’s half dozen largest health insurance providers.
Between January 2014 and June 2015, Quiram’s group had gone through a series of organizational changes. She was promoted to her current role with expanded responsibilities. Her seven top executives within the group were also in new or expanded roles. At the same time, the insurance business was going through tremendous change surrounding introduction of the Affordable Care Act. There was a lot going on; it was a time of reform and rethinking.
Quiram and her team of high achievers were being asked to improve business performance simultaneously on multiple levels. “We collectively had high expectations for our organization and our team,” she says. Everyone needed to bring their A game to meet the challenge. “I knew the team members were going to need to trust each other and rely on each other’s strengths more than I had seen in the past,” says Quiram. She understood that the term “team” had to mean “our team” because collaboration would net the group further success and innovation.
THE ROAD TO VISTA CABALLO
Quiram wanted to shine a light on the team’s collective brilliance and remembered Lisa Arie, founder of the exclusive Colorado-based Vista Caballo, which specializes in intensive custom leadership training for top-tier executives. Quiram had gone through one of Arie’s custom group experiences near Humana headquarters in Kentucky and came away with “a very strong appreciation for Lisa and all she does for others.”
In February, Quiram signed up herself and her team for Arie’s integrated online tool, The StillPoint Discovery Experience, which can be done remotely. She went through it a total of five times, and each of her team members completed at least three rounds.
They went into it with the shared goal of attaining “better business performance,” says Quiram. But they ended up rarely talking about that. What gripped them was each individual’s balance point, meaning an area that needed a little work to bring each executive’s thinking styles—and the group’s business performance—into balance.
They were all “open, candid and vulnerable with each other. They shared their balance points, the challenges they were having, as well as their personal discoveries,” Quiram says. Everyone, including her, “was learning something about themselves, and each person was learning something different.
“Personally, I bounced back and forth between [working on] curiosity and vision,” she recalls.
CURIOSITY AND VISION
“The StillPoint curiosity activity requires you to make random word pairings and look for new connections,” she says. “For me, curiosity wasn’t about asking questions as much as it was about making…new connections that, for me, had not been intuitive.
“For example, I was exploring the connection between time management and [the feeling of] fulfillment when I noticed that I tended to spend my time on problems rather than on activities that gave me a sense of fulfillment. By choosing to shift how I used my time, I found I was more fulfilled and that others were capable of solving many of those problems,” she says.
“Similarly, when money and worry were paired, it was too easy to conclude the connection is ‘people worry about money.’ Deeper contemplation led me to see that people often worry more about what they have and could lose than what they lack. Translating that to business applications, I started to ask myself if I become more risk averse when the business is performing really well.”
Working on her vision was a different story. “Prior to The StillPoint Discovery Experience, my concept of vision was all about the long-term vision for my organization,” Quiram says.
“As part of StillPoint, we played with vision in short spurts. For example, what’s my vision for this meeting or for the family dinner? I started taking time to close my eyes and envision myself in the near future. What surprised me is that I rarely (OK, never) conjured up a picture of me at work. Rather, I saw myself volunteering, running and participating in community activities. This is a shift for me, and I’m really curious to see how my future choices will be shaped by this different perspective,” she says.
As for the team, Quiram realized that she generally tries to create a culture where folks feel comfortable and safe sharing so she assumed that they were. “Therefore, I had not asked my [top executives] to be vulnerable with each other. The Stillpoint Discovery Experience created this opportunity for the team in a safe and comfortable way The result: They grew closer and came to trust each other more. We can now focus not just on personal development, but also on team development. As a result, we’re stronger as individuals and exponentially stronger as a team.”
For Quiram and her team, the deep conversations with Arie during the 21-day period of exercises following the initial diagnostic sealed the deal.
The team, she says, thought the exercises, aimed at “knowing your balance point and then knowing how to gain balance,” were extremely helpful. “But they also truly appreciated the one-on-ones with Lisa. Lisa has an ability to see into your soul and extract parts of you that you otherwise ignore. She helps you sort through your emotions and make sense of them. And even more important, she challenges your perspective and self-reflection. One of my team members could not have made the progress [that happened] without that challenge.”
LESS STRESS, MORE PEACE
Arie did the same for Quiram. “At one point, I shrugged off something during a conversation with Lisa with a comment like, ‘I know my reaction was really the result of some bad news I got earlier in the day.’ Lisa’s response was, ‘Well, if you want to believe that, I guess you can, but we both know that isn’t true.’ It was a good push. We were able to really get at some deeper thoughts and desires. And those realizations ultimately helped my stress levels subside.”
Since going through The StillPoint Discovery Experience, the team members have displayed an ability to take themselves to new levels of “unity and willingness,” according to Arie, who calls this development “something to be very proud of, something that can inspire other leaders and set a standard for other companies.”
That and Quiram’s more fruitful interactions with her colleagues have made this analytics maven happier. The process has also made her more nimble as a thinker and businesswoman. “I feel more positive and more at peace. I also feel smarter because I see connections and, maybe more importantly, connections I might have missed otherwise,” she says. “Best of all, I know the individuals on my team collaborate in a way that improves overall team performance. And that takes pressure off me. In the end, we all learned to trust each other more. And we love that.”