A Culture of Questioning

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What is the most important tool or resource a company has? Employees are number one for sure, with customers being a close second. Those are no-brainers. But after that?

Some people say it’s a mission statement. We’ll talk more about those in a second. Or perhaps it’s shared goals, such as taking the company public or reaching other milestones. Maybe it’s getting funding? All of those are worthy goals, but we would argue it’s none of the above. At Quandora, we think the most important resource a company has are its questions. The questions it asks itself, the questions its employees ask each other, client questions — they’re even more important to value than the answers that follow. Why? To prove it to you, let’s take a step back and look at Mission statements, which stem from the original question a company must ask about its existence.

As most of us have heard, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Having worked there, I can attest that everything follows from that. Having this mission statement has helped Google over the years to maintain their priorities even while exploring new technologies and revenue streams. We would talk about having this value in our company DNA, making it a part of our culture.

Why think about DNA?

Why do companies place such importance on mission statements, corporate DNA or culture in the first place?

It’s pretty simple — and very practical. Firstly, these things serve to align the company behind a foundational shared set of beliefs. Secondly and more importantly, they give employees a higher purpose than just showing up for work every day and collecting a paycheck.

Perhaps the most impressive mission statement comes from Zappos, the online shoe retailer.They’ve taken it to a new level, encoding their mission into their DNA more than the shoes they are selling. Steve Rosenbaum published a fantastic artcile in Fast Company entitled, “Zappos Isn’t A Company, It’s A Mission.” What is Zappo’s mission? From their website: “We’ve been asked by a lot of people how we’ve grown so quickly, and the answer is actually really simple… We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible.”

How did this come to be? How did it start? Zappos leadership had to ask themselves, “How can we stand apart from our competitors, and feel like we are serving a worthwhile purpose at the same time?”

It started with a commitment to question and improve.

Before a team can even create a mission statement, they need to put themselves and their employees in an open frame of mind, open to learning and questioning. We call it a Culture of Questioning.

Google, Zappos, Johnson and Johnson and any other successful company make it a priority for leaders to be able to challenge and expose their ignorance, their willingness to change, improve and commit to finding an ideal. And that is what then turns into a mission statement.

Quandora’s premise is that a truly successful company must encourage questions in all forms. It all starts with this culture of learning, questioning, knowledge sharing and improving.

But anyone can say that questioning is part of their company’s DNA. How do you make a strong commitment to it, put it into action, and what does it look like when it’s working?

First, In your core set of beliefs, we encourage you to consider some provision for questioning in order to create an environment that not only respects questioning and knowledge sharing, but expects it from every employee on a daily basis.

There are tools that can be used to build knowledge sharing and teamwork that foster this culture. Quandora’s sole purpose is to help companies create this environment of questioning and knowledge sharing.

Putting culture into practice

So what does a culture where questioning is welcomed and encouraged look like? First, imagine a place where questioning isn’t penalized. Where not knowing the answer is a beginning. Now, picture an atmosphere where the exchange of knowledge thrives on an hourly basis. It’s vibrant. This amplifies into a culture where people can openly challenge each other to find the best answers, without fearing reprimand. It puts the search for improvement and truth above the hierarchical status quo.

If this is in place, two interesting things happen that can make a good company into an exceptional one.

First of all, the questions become more important than the answers. They show the areas of interest where employees want to build expertise. What areas are fielding the most questions? E.g. Human Resources or Developer Infrastructure? We’ve found that the department with the most questions is either the one that is a pain point and needs attention, or more often, is the one that is the most successful at the company with the strongest team.

Secondly, a rising tide floats all boats – in this case, the more knowledge sharing, the greater the expertise of the entire group. An engineer who comes from a company where Quandora is used frequently will, on average, have exponentially more expertise than an engineer who comes from a non-Quandora company. For instance, certain coding technologies (e.g. Ruby) are constantly changing. Asking, documenting and sharing internal engineering best practices helps an engineer communicate better and code with greater efficiency and clarity.  When the group shares knowledge, all members benefit.

Quadora is dedicated to enabling this Questioning Culture, which is essential in today’s companies where everything is changing with the information and communication innovation disruption that has happened in the last two decades. Now, learning is a part of the job, as roles and technologies become obsolete faster than ever before.

The Tool For A Questioning Culture

More than any other tool available, Quandora allows the free flow of questions and answers within an organization. In his Forbes article Consensus – Team Building’s Silent Killer, Mike Myatt argues that a consensus-chasing culture is the enemy of true team building. Another word for it is groupthink – trying to give everyone an equal say and try to give each teammate equal credence. This is the opposite of the questioning culture we are promoting. Quandora encourages contrarianism and analysis by enabling a team to easily ask questions and make challenges and then to find and vote on the best answers.

Not only is teamwork built through the freeflow of questions, expertise is as well, as demonstrated by Quandora’s users who functionally range across an organization, from teams of developers to product managers to marketers, and more. When you realize that your culture and mission are the main vehicles to your company’s success, we encourage you to give Quandora a try.

Looking for a great way to ask questions and build knowledge with your co-workers? Quandora enables simple, efficient knowledge sharing with your team, way more fun than a mailing list or a forum. Try Quandora

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