How to Conduct an In-Depth-Interview (IDI)

In-depth-interviews, or IDIs for short, are what we use at Wayforward to execute the assessment phase of our client engagements. They’re a powerful tool that rests heavily on the expertise, experience, and internal compass of the interviewer. 

When applied by a skilled professional that balances human empathy with the academic disinterest necessary to maintain objectivity, a representative set of IDI’s can turn from qualitative discussions into comprehensive data sets that are among the most solid foundations a leadership team can base decisions on.

This overview of the methodology within these interviews can be used by either internal or external practitioners to generate these data sets. If utilized by an individual internal to the organization - one must exercise caution and self awareness around both their own ability to remain objective in their interpretations and use of the information gathered, the confidentiality of the information shared by interviewees, as well as reputational and other preconceptions that could skew the accuracy of the information provided.



Psychodynamic interviewing is rooted in traditional psychoanalysis. While it is not clinical therapy, this method of interviewing utilizes a similar set of guidelines to help the individual and the organization better understand and articulate the factors influencing their current state.

In psychodynamic interviewing, the interviewer gains insight into the work (and often personal) life and present-day problems of the interviewee - sometimes simultaneously to the interviewee themselves. They evaluate patterns that people have developed over time, by reviewing certain factors such as thoughts, emotions, experiences, and beliefs. 

Recognizing recurring patterns within a representative sample of interviewees allows the organization to act on those patterns.

A trusting relationship is central to psychodynamic interviewing. Feeling secure in the interview and holding a belief in the interviewer’s genuine intent to help is key to empowering the interviewee to be forthcoming.


Unstructured, Interviewee-Led Discussion

Every part of interviewing can be informative. The moment the person enters the room is no exception. Upon refreshing the interviewee on the context and goal of why we are conducting the interview, space is left for them to begin the conversation.

What they do with that time is important. And how they feel about it is even more so. 

This space is left so that the interviewer has less influence over the content of discussion. We are deliberately avoiding what we think is important or the possibility that we may stifle thoughts that the interviewee is having by taking a turn they wouldn’t have.


Topics of Importance to the Interviewee

A surprising lack of structured questions leaves an opening for the interviewee to determine what is most important for them to communicate. Each interview then creates a different landscape. Even when topics overlap and patterns emerge between interviewees, it is important to avoid assumptions on why these topics may be important to the individual.

In determining the root cause of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that emerge within an organization, it is crucial to avoid jumping to conclusions. Utilizing root cause analysis tools in facilitating the conversation allow you to document the interviewee’s thought process rather than projecting your own expectations onto their perspective. Weaving such RCA tools (such as Five Whys or Ishikawa’s Factors) seamlessly into discussion without creating an impersonal tone or causing the interviewee to feel dissected is another crucial element. 

As mentioned above, maintaining a focus on the interviewee’s comfort and a genuine desire to help their situation rather than crudely dredging for information can help an interviewer set the correct energy in the room.


Drilling Down

While the interviewee may be in the driver’s seat of the discussion, this does not mean the interviewer takes a passive role. The value of the one-on-one interview format, while time consuming, is that it allows the interviewer to drill down into the statements of the interviewee. This is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the IDI: the ability to clarify, define, unpack, and explore interrelationships of the statements made by the interviewee. It allows the interviewer to obtain a deep and detailed “why” behind both positive and negative drivers of the employee’s experience. 

To contrast psychodynamic employee experience interviewing with the more common survey method - an excellent way to get information quickly and cheaply - the survey lacks several characteristics. It is by nature reliant on assumptions of what is important from the individual writing the survey. And it may often generate more questions than answers - when its responses contain confusing information without enough context. Few survey respondents possess the unprompted chutzpah (or self-awareness) to outline the root causes of their responses in the context of organizational systems..


Direct Value

While the interview’s main and most apparent value is generating strong data from which to make decisions on improvement initiatives and protect core competencies of the organization - the interviews themselves generate their own value. The interviews are a demonstration of leadership’s genuine interest in the perspective and knowledge of employees. The opportunity to voice one’s thoughts and contribute to the larger direction of the organization is a major factor in satisfaction and a morale boost in and of itself. During the interviews, the interviewer also has the opportunity to foster faith in the leadership team’s authentic interest in what their employees have to say, and leaderships’ genuine intent to act on the information.


Organic problem solving activity

Though less certain than the direct value highlighted above, the interviews themselves do sometimes generate organic problem solving activity among employees. The nature of the topic discussed, and the interviewer’s focus on root cause lines of questioning often plants the seeds of initiative in individual interviewees. Indeed, it is frequent that interviewees reach out later to thank the interviewer for sparking their desire to act on a problem and share the good news of its solution.



Approaching IDIs with an existing team can be tricky. It's rare that the right combination of skills and reputation all rest with the same person. However, if you would like external guidance on how best to use this method, we invite you to learn more by reaching out to schedule a consult with us. 

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