Get Better Results: Ask the Right Questions

June 9, 2021

We recently talked about how you can change your company culture—because you help create it.

But there are situations where you’re doing all the right things … and STILL not getting the results you want. Maybe you’re showing up for your company and your team, taking full accountability for everything within your control, and still not seeing results.

If you’ve tried to effect change in your company culture with no success, it could be because you’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

Today, we’ll talk about how to ask the right questions and approach your work—and your life—with the highly effective practice of open-minded inquiry.


If you’re looking for someone to validate your worst fears or biggest assumptions, you may eventually find that person. But that is the exact opposite of what I’m suggesting here.

So many of my clients come to me with what they THINK is the problem. No doubt what is troubling them needs to be addressed — it’s just that what they think is the primary issue is often a symptom of something else. And without an open mind and open heart, it will take so much longer to actually identify what the problem is.

In residential settings, it often presents as a particular type of clutter, i.e. paper or clothes.

In corporate settings, it usually takes the form of a dysfunctional company culture. But the core issue is often something entirely different.

This is so common it’s worth calling out. We get so focused on our assumptions about what a problem must be, that we can’t see what it actually is.

So if you’re trying harder and harder to fix something, and what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t keep doing that thing with more intensity. That’s Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Instead, take a breath and set aside everything you think you know about what’s going on.

Leave all your assumptions at the door, and summon your inner Joe Friday from Dragnet: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”


Once you’ve freed yourself from the notion that you already know what’s going on, you’re ready to start asking open-ended questions in a state of genuine curiosity.

The RIGHT questions will be neutral, not pointed at a specific target. 

Unhelpful questions look like this: “Why is my company culture so toxic?” or “Why does my boss hate me so much?”

Those questions aren’t really open-ended. They assume certain information right off the bat.

Here’s a list of suggested questions that ARE helpful, to get you started:

  • What events or situations bother me the most at work?
  • What do I find myself thinking about or worrying over during non-work hours?
  • What tasks do I look forward to? What tasks do I avoid?
  • Which tasks seem redundant or unnecessary? Where are they replicated or why aren’t they needed?
  • Which people do I look forward to working with? Which people do I avoid?
  • What are my best and worst moments at work? Are there any key people or themes in common with each category?
  • What’s one change I could make to improve my day-to-day work?

Write down your answers to these questions, and then start to dig deeper. Keep peeling back your answer to see if there’s something else that’s more accurate or specific below the surface of that piece of information. 

Two tools for this kind of inquiry started in Japan—the 5 whys, developed by Sakichi Toyoda for Toyota Motor Corp. and the Fishbone diagram which grew out of Kaoru Ishikawa’s criticism of the 5 whys. 

The premise behind each technique is that as you go deeper and deeper into the why behind your answers, you’ll abandon superficial reasons until you can’t go any further and THAT will be your root cause.

Maybe the problem isn’t your overall company culture at all. Maybe it’s a particularly negative team member who is so abusive that his attitude has poisoned the well. 

Or perhaps, as Jim Collins would say, you’re in the wrong seat. Maybe you’re climbing the sales ladder, but you hate to sell and would be happier in a customer service role.

It’s almost never an entire company that’s the issue. If you dig deep enough, you can usually trace your problem back to a person, a task, a process or a system that is problematic.

Shifting the conversation from a negative one filled with declarations of “fact” and  blame—“This culture is so toxic”— to a constructive and exploratory one—“What would happen if we all asked at least 3 neutral questions before deciding anything?” is going to get you much closer to a solution that is accurate and sustainable.


Many of us move from job to job every few years, searching for that ideal job or perfect company. It’s like serial dating, searching for Ms. or Mr. Right. If you stay anywhere long enough, you’ll eventually find the flaws. A question to ask yourself is: Do the benefits outweigh the annoyance? 

Because more often than not, the company isn’t really the problem. It’s a lot like clutter—the clutter isn’t typically the problem. YOU are.

Which isn’t about blame or shame. When we recognize that it’s how we are thinking, feeling, and then acting on assumptions that is part of the problem, that knowledge becomes the basis for our search for a solution.

Asking the right open-ended questions, in a spirit of genuine curiosity and openness, is a great place to start.

Don’t waste time and energy on finger-pointing, or on blindly solving what you assume to be the problem.

Ask better questions, and you’ll soon discover what the real problem is.


You can burn up a lot of time and energy trying to solve problems if you’re asking the wrong questions, and “toxic company culture” has become an all-too-common scapegoat for all kinds of issues.

Including people who are simply in the wrong roles or on the wrong “bus.”

So instead of jumping to conclusions based on false premises, take the time to approach problems with true open-mindedness.

Learn how to ask the right questions, without judgment, blame, or fear of what you may find—and you’ll soon discover the solution to your actual root cause. 

Even though the answer may surprise you, see if you can approach it with a sense of wonder and curiosity instead of anger and frustration. You’ll find it much easier to change behavior when you’re focused on what you’re gaining rather than on what you’re giving up.
If you need help identifying the right questions for your team/organization, we can help. Schedule a quick, free strategy call with our COO, Kevin Smith.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!