A learning company is always on a quest to answer new questions, and learning continually prepares the mind to formulate better questions, rather than just to give answers.
Thus, one of the most important strategic applications of collaborative organisational learning in a business is to ask questions whose answers repeatedly increase its capacity to sense and prepare for its future.
Clearly, the more minds you engage in focusing on and learning from what is happening outside the business, the greater should be its readiness for and responsiveness to change.
In this, in a business’s defence, being able to conjure a range of answers to the question in the title will be helpful, to say the least.
The ability to collaborate more effectively is itself a driver of future capability, and of readiness for the jarring discontinuities that will come with it.
Certainly, even if they occasionally get it right, getting an accurate read of the future is beyond the capacity of any individual alone, and impossible for a single mind to achieve in any sustained or reliable fashion.
It is also an ability that can’t simply be bought, and any person’s point of view is subject to individual bias, based on their personal experience and learning.
In a company, however, there are many contrasting views informed by a variety of departmental perspectives, professional disciplines and combinations of personal experience.
As such, through diversity, collectively, we have a much better chance of pooling intelligence to assess the likelihood, scale and potential impact of future change.
Together, we also have much more potential to alert others to new things of which they have no idea. Likewise, the higher up you move within a business, the less experience or knowledge you have of the challenges or experiences of others currently working at its coalface.
Asking intelligent questions of employees or customers and analysing their responses is critical for executives who are responsible for making decent decisions and setting the agenda for corporate strategy.
Fail to ask questions, or ask the wrong questions of only the wrong people, and you will be unlikely to receive the necessary workplace intelligence needed to drive optimal results. Worse yet, you might waste valuable time and resources in the process.
The contributions of one person might trigger wholly unexpected insights or understanding on the part of another. To put this possibility to work in an immediately useful fashion, then, the following is a list of questions you could put to your workplace to tease out different opinions of the external forces acting on your business.
One of the immediate tasks to get busy on if you want to get attention and drive effective collaborative organisational learning is to ask deliberately provocative questions that prepare your business, and even shock its people into its future learning way of being. In most, as it is still not a native state, every company has to learn how to learn.
Doing so will help the decision makers in charge to drill down on the improvements that are most important to work on across the business, thus strengthening it.
Failing to do this will tell you nothing and risk the opposite.
In turn, in initiating a culture of inquiry, encouraging contribution by asking attention-grabbing questions opens people to new ideas and possibilities.
In the coming years, organisations that take the lead will be those building open learning cultures, in which better rounded, learning workers are increasingly empowered to look across traditional departmental silos to suggest and discover innovations that improve both customers’ journeys and the organisational capacities needed to deliver them.
Individuals who succeed in organisations tend to be pragmatic problem solvers. They have to be, because of the myriad challenges they face, such as, how to grow the enterprise; how to get work done; how to find, satisfy and retain customers; how to identify and attract the right talent; how to be themselves in the workplace.
Good questions will encourage responses which identify clearly the nature of the talents you need to attract.
Such innate ability must be identified and empowered, because when people can’t contribute, they either quit and leave, or they quit and stay.
Some important questions for your workplace
Here, then, to get this exercise rolling, is an enquiry with which to engage your organisation’s thinkers. Note also, there may be some overlap between some of these questions.
From your personal perspective, what are our business’s:
- Key strengths, and what could we do to make it stronger?
- Weaknesses, and with what urgency, and how, should we act to fix them?
- Opportunities, and in what ways can we act to capitalise on them?
- Threats, and how could we act to minimise them?
What are the biggest risks our business faces?
How effectively are we building our business for tomorrow, and in what ways can our processes for facing the future be improved?
Every business faces external forces that are disruptive or threatening, so what are those on which we should focus most clearly?
Again, what must we do to become the business that will put ours out of business; and,
- What is the business that looks most likely to do that at the moment, and in what ways, and why?
On what assumptions is our business currently built, and which of these are most vulnerable to change?
What do our people think our business most needs to learn if it is to survive?
What will unfold as the most critical success factors in our business’s future survival?
From your personal perspective, what is changing fastest around our business and in our industry?
In what specific ways are we experiencing change in:
- Consumer preferences?
- Evolving or emerging distribution channels?
- Access to factors such as materials, the right skills or people?
- New competitors or forms of competition
How well are our products or services differentiated from our competitors?
How well do we understand our competitors, and in what ways could we analyse the competition better in order to understand its competitive advantages and disadvantages, and thus identify areas for improvement?
How well do we treat our customers, and what could we improve on?
How well do our organisation’s products solve the customers’ problems and meet their expectations, and in what ways can we improve on this?
How much ease and expense is required for our customers to switch to a competitor’s offering, and for what benefits might they do this?
How clear is your understanding of our company’s strategic vision and goals for where its leaders want it to go?
How could we improve on communicating and engaging the workplace with this vision?
How can we improve on the ways in which we engage and put to use the knowledge and intelligence of our people?
In what ways can we improve on the ways in which we reward the application of the knowledge and intelligence of our people?
How can we improve our processes for identifying and challenging what we currently think is working just fine, but which might in some way jeopardise our future?
From your perspective, and in or around your specific role, what could we do to improve efficiency in our business?
Where in your experience is the deadweight we most need to eliminate?
How well do we communicate online, and in what ways could we improve on that?
How well does our organisation promote itself through its people, and how can we improve the ways in which our people actively promote it?
Where are the greatest barriers to change you can see or have experienced in our business, and in what ways could we act to remove them?
You might not want to ask all of these questions in a single intervention. Yet, if in running this exercise you can’t get some learning of value in strengthening your business against the inevitable changes of the future, something is surely wrong.