Thursday, January 5, 2023

In many organizations, those who ask the best questions become the object of criticism while the questions remain unanswered

 




Here is something I have observed on numerous occasions with organizations I have worked with. 

Those who ask the best questions are often the target of criticism for asking what are considered irritating questions while the answers to those questions often go unaddressed. Rather than focusing on the question, the organization often focuses on the one who asked it.

Why would this be? Organizations can be very protective of the status quo because the status quo is comfortable. It is what we are used to and challenging the status quo with a hard question is often an unwelcome intrusion to the comfort of the group. 

There is another phenomenon at work. Many of the paradigms of the organization were decided on by senior leaders and they may feel that questioning the paradigm is a criticism of them. The resulting defensiveness can be a powerful message not to question their decisions.

In both instances, it is often the one who asks the questions who becomes the target of criticism while the issues they asked about are left undiscussed.

Here is the thing. Organizations that ask the best questions become the best organizations. No organization gets better without the probing questions of good people who want the very best for the organization. Yet, in many instances, the pride of the group or the leader shut down the questions because they are considered irritating. This is especially true in religious institutions where we can claim "God's direction" in our actions. 

Great questions are a means of getting to the truth and to better practices. I once consulted with a church board where 15 staff had left over a five-year period. I asked the obvious question as to whether exit interviews had been conducted. The answer was no. I asked why not and the board members kind of hung their heads. So I interviewed the fifteen and discovered similar stories of why these staff had left. In every case, it revolved around their senior leader. Why had no one asked this question? Because it would have been inconvenient and made some uncomfortable. Yet in not asking the question, dysfunction was allowed to continue for years. 

Good questions should not be seen as threats but as a means of honing strategies, practices, and assumptions that may need reconsidering. This does not mean that the current practices are not effective but that there may be ways that are more effective. You don't get there without questions. In fact, good questions are disruptive to the organization in a great way.

So going back to my prior observation. We ought to celebrate those who ask the best and most prescient questions rather than see those individuals as troublemakers and irritants. Your culture will either celebrate great questions or shut them down. The result will either be a better organization or one that resists true progress. 

My one caveat would be this. Any question should be invited with the exception of a hidden agenda or a personal attack. With those two exceptions, any question should be welcomed.

Does your organization invite and encourage hard questions or does it seek to shut those questions down? In fact, here is a question you might consider asking: What are the questions we resist asking because we are not sure we want to know the answer? Start with those.

Proud organizations and leaders with egos resist good questions. Humble organizations and humble leaders welcome them because it is not about them but about the mission.


At Addington Consulting,
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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wise words, as always my friend!