By Kevin O'Brien, Principal at K.T. O'Brien Consulting
One skill essential for every leader is to be very good at asking the "right" questions. It doesn't matter if they are leading themselves, a group, or a whole organization. Questions by their very nature invite as opposed to divide. Individuals that think they know everything stop asking questions. And once the questions stop, the learning also stops. If you are a leader who desires to create a great organization and culture, here are five questions you may want to ask:
1. Are people optimistic about their future at the company?
This simple question addresses two things in your organization. The first is whether or not people on the whole are optimistic. A culture of optimism "We will get it done!" is invaluable to creating a successful and lasting company. Optimism and positivity feed off of each other. They are not just qualities needed for successful sales. They are qualities needed for successful organizational and personal leadership.
The second part addressed by this question is about the future. Are people hopeful that your company and their part in it will ultimately grow, they won't be searching in their spare time for a new job. They also will be more likely to dedicate their discretionary energies to creating the future of the company.
2. Do people feel fairly treated by the company and each other?
This question addresses the concept of perceived fairness inside your organization. When people feel that they have been, are currently, or will be fairly treated, they are more willing to trust their colleagues. When the level of trust improves, so does communication. People will be more open to speaking their true thoughts on issues or opportunities. Individuals will also be more willing to take personal risks which are needed if the company is going create the future.
If you don't believe in the importance of fairness, take a look at professional sports. Whenever a team hires an all-star and pays them significantly above other members of the team, how often does it result in the team winning a national championship. It is the teams with the most connection and trust amongst the players that ultimately do the best. In organizations, a higher level of perceived fairness, whether it be in compensation, in opportunities, or any aspect of organizational life, will always generate better outcomes than the alternative.
3. Are people expected to hold each other accountable for commitments?
The principle of commitment is a very simple one. It is the basis for civil law and is reason why, when not abided by, relationships deteriorate, lawsuits occur, and sales don't get made. Commitment is about keeping track of and fulfilling your personal agreements to your colleagues, your customers, your team, or even your family and friends. When an organization has the necessary skills and knowledge to get things done, but is not producing, is because of a lack of commitment. If people were really truly committed, they would get creative and find ways to overcome perceived obstacles.
When people are expected to hold each other accountable, you get the benefit of leadership everywhere instead of just in small pockets. The idea that management should be the only ones holding individuals accountable reduces the overall lever of accountability in the organization. If you want more accountability, make it a part of everyone's job.
4. Do people ignore artificial boundaries like "departments" in order to get things done?
The truth is that boundaries, whether they be organizational ones like "departments" or national ones like borders, are not real. The do not existing in real life. The only reality inside your organization is that it is full of people. Whether or not an organization uses titles or department names, the real work of the organization to get things done collectively. Naming groups can be useful to provide clarity but names alone are not sufficient to solve the problem of how to work together.
5. Are people free and encouraged to help their colleagues' grow?
Individuals at all times are either growing or they are dying. When you choose to create a culture which encourages personal growth, you benefit from the natural cycle of human life. If we think people are like machine parts, then they are only most valuable when they first get purchased. Machines decay and eventually wear out. And need to be replaced by newer machines. People do things that machines cannot and will not ever do. People learn and grow throughout their lifetimes. People relate to other people through interest, empathy, and compassion. People have hopes and dreams and are able to imagine things. If people aren't free to help their colleagues grow in breadth and depth of skills and/or commitment, then the organization will never tap into its true human potential.
Kevin O'Brien is an organizational self-management consultant, open-space facilitator, and certified scrum master. A chemical engineer by training, he worked for seven years at W.L. Gore & Associates. He is principal of K.T. O'Brien Consulting. Kevin is also a champion for Great Work Cultures, a movement dedicated to unleashing the power within every human organization. He currently resides in the city of Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.