Purpose: This article aims to consider the construction and use of a qualitative survey in opening relational aspects of the organisational culture within an educational institution. Rather than a numeric set of metrics, the researcher's intent was to use a survey as a vehicle for thematic and hermeneutic constructions of the data that might show emergent themes that are ontological in nature. The open-ended questions in this survey were constructed in four sections: general practice and comparison, history, relational experiences, and leadership practices. Design/methodology/approach: The context for this research was a department within a faculty of education. In addition to the process of collecting and analysing the survey data, the chairperson of the department was interviewed in terms of the quality of the data and the usefulness of the data. The quality of the data was considered in terms of the insights that might be gained from the participants' data. Findings: The findings of the qualitative survey showed the relational nature of the department in terms of the collegiality and reciprocity of care between those in leadership and amongst the staff in general. While staff referred to the strengths of the relational culture, the growth in student numbers and staff leave staff wondering about the sustainability of a rich collegial culture. In addition, the chairperson appreciated understandings from the participants in terms of the future growth and culture of the department. Originality/value: All too often, educational leaders are busy with data associated with the future directions of an educational enterprise. Educational leaders can make assumptions from their interactions with staff in the busyness of leadership and management tasks. This survey has opened themes that were new to the chairperson, or validated some of their hunches and assumptions. The success of the experience, findings and learning on the part of the educational leader has led to the trialling of this organisational tool in the context of an elementary primary school.