Better Questions, Better Culture
During a recent strategy session with a leadership team, the question was asked, “How do we create more opportunities for innovation in a team of high-achievers?”
A beautiful question.
Here’s why this is such a beautiful question. High-achievers are in the habit of succeeding. When you get used to success, the risk-taking required for innovation is harder because inherent with risks is the possibility to fail. This is the paradox of risk-taking.
When I reflected on this and the myriad of other insight-creating questions that were asked in this session, I was reminded of how strong the culture is at this particular business. How your team formulates questions can define your culture and your outcomes.
Let me explain.
Curiosity is the prelude to discovery and the catalyst of courage. The root of the word question is quest. When I hear the word quest, I can’t help but think of the Knights of the Roundtable who sought to understand through venturing into the unknown. As humans, leaders, and businesses, we grow in the direction of our questions and curiosities. Questions create growth and nourish the soul of people and organizations. This is part of why team retreats, whiteboard sessions, and brainstorming are so potent. Pausing to reflect, wonder, question, rejuvenate, and revitalize may be one of the best investments you can make for your businesses.
How your style of questions defines your culture.
Disruptive questions can wake up stuck or stagnant organizations. People-centric questions can reclaim the humanity in your culture and customer experience. Foundational questions can bolster the operations of a newly minted start-up.
If there’s finger-pointing associated with questions like, “why is this customer unhappy, and who’s responsible?” you likely have a fear-based organization that plays the blame-game. Or if you regularly hear questions like, “in what ways are we delighting our customers?” or “our NPS scores are down from last year, do we have a blind spot in our value proposition or a customer service issue?” you likely have an organization that has a growth mindset.
Socrates famously stated,“The unexamined life is not worth living,” as such, the unexamined business is unlikely to thrive. An evolved business is an ever-curious entity that is constantly examining how they can be better, where they can learn more, and how they can better serve their people. Evolved businesses do more deep questioning than they do asking and answering quick and easy questions. Of course, the better the questions, the more likely it is to yield growth projecting insight.
By understanding the kinds of questions your organization asks, you can understand what makes your culture tick. Said simply, show me the types of questions your people ask, and I’ll show you your culture. Curiosity is life-affirming because when we keep asking, we keep growing. Your approach to your curiosity can be life-defining—this works for individuals and organizations alike. When you’re challenged with something, the path of your curiosity can be the catalyst to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Here are some tools and approaches that might help with forming better questions:
- Employ “question storming” sessions. Instead of brainstorming about a particular issue, ask participants to generate as many relevant questions as possible first. Questions that start with, “What if…” or “How could we…” that have open-ended responses are usually good ones.
- Stay curious. Stay enrolled as a student of your business, your market, your product, and your customers. Leaders should model humble questions and beginners’ mind, whenever possible. This creates a culture of curiosity. Here’s a free toolkit on Curiosity.
- Look outside in. Lean into the wisdom of your customers, ask them questions about what you’re doing for them, and how this might improve. You learn more about how to better serve them by learning about them. Again, keep your questions open-ended to foster deeper customer learning.
- Catalyze your questions. Leverage and identify catalytic questions: ones that hold the most potential to disrupting the status quo. Here are some tools for Catalytic Questions.
Want some potent questions, ask your team these:
- When exploring the essence of your business: What business are we really in?
- When you’re thinking about the value of your product or service: What’s in it for our customers?
- When examining a new product launch, innovation directions, or new market: What’s a stake?
- When looking at the effectiveness of your leaders or managers (each asked separately): How is (vulnerability, resilience, curiosity, courage, humility) serving our culture, team, and customers?
When leaders set the example by asking better questions, we give permission to team members to do the same. This cultivates a culture of learning, curiosity, and inquiry, which helps the organization stay aligned, agile, and on a constant growth-track. Employ this uncommon approach, and your organization will be better for it.