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Five Questions To Boost Productivity And Innovation At Your Company

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Sometimes it seems like my desk is situated at the end of a conveyer belt with business apps just churning out ad nauseam. I feel like Lucy working at the chocolate factory, cramming SaaS in my laptop to avoid the pile-up of marketing automation software, communication apps, data tools…etc…

Arguably the most powerful business tool isn’t necessarily software. This one has been around for millennia and was only recently perfected through technology. I am referring of course to the almighty question.

Questions are deceptively simple. They can be used to gain information, to send people on a journey of self-inquiry, and to convey that the questioner actually cares how the other person feels. Not only do they result in positive business outcomes, but questions can also be used to spark innovative thinking and boost productivity. Here are five great ones that you can use with your team:

1) When do you feel most productive at work?

I am not very structure or systems oriented – more artist than scientist. So questions like these invite me to shine a light on the conditions that create optimal performance. The next step is to replicate them, share with others on the team, and then write a blog post about it.

2) What should the company stop doing because it is counterproductive?

The answers to this feedback question will provide information that employees seldom volunteer to managers. When is the last time you heard, “Hey boss, here is what you or someone above you did that was a really bad idea”? But when managers ask this, acknowledge the response, and take action, a culture of transparency will soon develop. Then counterproductive measures will come to the surface far more often.

3) Is there a project or task where you are interested in taking more ownership?

Some people just don’t want to step on any toes, so they might not realize that their is an opportunity for them to step up. When the person who is best suited to see a task through owns it, then productivity, efficiency, and happiness all get a nice boost.

4) Are you crystal clear on your role and what you should be working on? If not, what aspects aren’t clear?

This one is important for employees as well as managers. Sure some employees are happy just filling out their TPS reports and calling it a day, but most of us want to make steady progress towards meaningful goals. Questions like these also give immediate insight into a larger communication problem – perhaps the manager isn’t communicating clearly or the employee is too distracted by his Facebook feed to pay attention.

5) What would you change about our company/product if you had a magic wand?

This is my favorite “innovation” question. Sometimes I limit my suggestions because I don’t fully understand how they can be implemented, or I think that they are too far-fetched and impractical. Those are often the suggestions that can inspire others on different teams.

As a response to this question I may offer a seemingly ridiculous idea that I would not have otherwise volunteered.  It originates from my limited marketing-mind, but someone from the engineering team might run with it and actually produce a viable product improvement.

Questions are indeed powerful and have benefits for both the person asking and the one responding. Managers need to know what is occurring for employees so that they can course correct and offer support. And employees today more than ever want to make a contribution and grow in their roles. Don’t believe me? Just ask them.

Want more great questions like these? Check-out the 15Five Question Bank.

Image via Wikimedia Commons