Question Storming and the Positive Organization Generator

Four people from a Fortune 25 company called me to discuss a product launch that could revolutionize their industry.  The company built a new facility to produce the product.  In that facility they wanted to create a culture of excellence, so we explored possible strategies.

The day after that call, I had lunch with Marilee Adams, author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 12 Powerful Tools for Leadership, Coaching, and Life.  She shared a story about how she helped an organization get a large change project back on track by using a process she calls Q-Storming.  It is a tool that moves a group from knowing to learning; a shift that is seldom achieved.  (The full story appears in my last blog.)

As I continued to ponder on my conversation with Marilee, I suddenly had an idea for the Fortune 25 company.  It had to do with how they could apply the process of Q-Storming.

In my book, The Positive Organization, there is a tool called the Positive Organization Generator.  It is a diverse list of 100 positive practices implemented in real organizations.  The user evaluates the practices in terms of interest, selects the top ranked practices, and then reinvents their most highly rated practices to fit their own situation.

Here are five examples from the list of 100 positive practices.

  • Looking Ahead: Ford holds a Business Plan Review meeting. The global business environment is monitored at many levels so everyone is looking ahead at developing trends, and has a shared understanding of what might happen, particularly to customers.
  • Higher Purpose: Cascade Engineering has a purpose beyond profit. In one case they greatly persevered in learning how to turn welfare recipients into productive employees. This has been recognized by the White House and the company now reaps the unforeseen benefits.
  • Co-Creation: At Menlo Innovations Software Factory all programing is done in pairs. This unusual practice of co-creating software promotes an energized learning culture and many benefits accrue.
  • Rumor Game: The Scooter Store plays the “Rumor Game” during company rallies. The CEO hosts the activity and asks for employees to raise a rumor that he has heard and would like to know the truth about. He rewards volunteers with gifts.
  • Customer Service Training: Zappos is a culture-focused company. They give new employees five weeks of training on things like core values and customer service.

With the Question-Storming process in mind, I imagined that I was a member of the launch-team, and generated a long list of questions about the launch process.

For example, after reading the practice at Ford for Looking Ahead, I asked myself, “In the new facility, what can we do to see that every employee is incentivized to look forward in terms of emerging customer needs?”  I did this for many of the positive practices and a long list of questions emerged.  Here are four more examples.  The first words are labels from the above best practices.  Each label is followed by one of my new questions.

  • Higher Purpose: If this product has the potential to revolutionize the industry, it means that the work has great inherent meaning. What can we do to clarify our highest purpose and capture it in ever present symbols that inspire commitment?
  • Co-Creation: How can we redesign jobs so people are more likely to create a learning culture?
  • Rumor Game: In any new endeavor uncertainty will drive rumors, what new leadership practices would ensure transparency and increase confidence?
  • Customer Service Training: If some companies give new employees five weeks of training on things like core values and customer service, what must they see that we do not see?

After creating a long list of these questions, I sent the list to my colleagues.  I suggested that if each member of the design team did the same, then winnowed the final list to the ten most powerful questions from the group, they could use that list to again winnow and select the most valuable question(s) for the project.  Doing so would guarantee a new and wider perspective.  It would also move the group from a problem-solving orientation to an orientation of learning-growth-creation.

Reflection

  • In what ways could you move your workgroup from a problem-solving orientation to an orientation of learning-growth-creation?
  • Why do questions pull the mind towards generative thinking?
  • For you, what new possibilities could be created by integrating Q-Storming with the Positive Organization Generator?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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