What we have to learn is how to bridge the status gap between role boundaries when we are mutually dependent on each other.
“Why is it so important to learn to ask better questions that help to build positive relationships? Because in an increasingly complex, interdependent, and culturally diverse world, we cannot hope to understand and work with people from different occupational, professional, and national cultures if we do not know how to ask questions and build relationships that are based on mutual respect and the recognition that others know things that we may need to know in order to get a job done.”
“We must become better at asking and do less telling in a culture that overvalues telling.”
“All my teaching and consulting experience has taught me that what builds a relationship, what solves problems, what moves things forward is asking the right questions.”
“This book is for the general reader, but it has special significance for people in leadership roles because the art of questioning becomes more difficult as status increases.”
N. Kornell et al., “Retrieval Attempts Enhance Learning, but Retrieval Success (Versus Failure) Does Not Matter,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 41, no. 1 (2015): 283–94.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edgar H. Schein
Schein spent 50 years of his life as a social and organizational psychologist.
A former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“Humble Inquiry is the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”
“Humble Inquiry is ultimately the basis for building trusting relationships, which facilitates better communication and, thereby, ensures collaboration where it is needed to get the job done.”
“What we ask, how we ask it, where we ask it, and when we ask it all matter.”
“The essential act of Humble Inquiry is in bringing [people] together and getting interested in them as people before asking them to help create a good climate of communication.”
“On the other hand, asking temporarily empowers the other person in the conversation and temporarily makes me vulnerable. It implies that the other person knows something that I need to or want to know.”
“The essence of Humble Inquiry goes beyond just overt questioning. The kind of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship that will lead to more open communication. It also implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and, thereby, arouses positive helping behavior in the other person.”
THE PROBLEM OF COMMUNICATION
“The missing ingredients in most conversations are curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answer.”
Lack of good relations and reliable communication across hierarchic boundaries. “Especially in the high hazard industries in which the problems of safety are paramount.”
“In airplane crashes and chemical industry accidents, in the infrequent but serious nuclear plant accidents, in the NASA Challenger and Columbia disasters, and in the British Petroleum gulf spill, a common finding is that lower-ranking employees had information that would have prevented or lessened the consequences of the accident, but either it was not passed up to higher levels, or it was ignored, or it was overridden.”
“[subordinates] they tell me either they do not feel safe bringing bad news to their bosses or they’ve tried but never got any response or even acknowledgment, so they concluded that their input wasn’t welcome and gave up.”
“(…)in hospitals, in operating rooms, and in the health care system generally, I find the same problems of communication exist and that patients frequently pay the price.”
“(…)in all of these situations is a climate in which lower-level employees feel safe to bring up issues that need to be addressed, information that would reduce the likelihood of accidents, and, in health care, mistakes that harm patients.”
“in a new and ambiguous situation, team members will fall back on their own cultural rules and do unpredictable things.”
“How does one produce a climate in which people will speak up, bring up information that is safety related, and even correct superiors or those of higher status when they are about to make a mistake?”
“Granting someone else a higher status than one claims for oneself. To be humiliated means to be publicly deprived of one’s claimed status, to lose face.”
“Culture of Do and Tell“
“a mindset of seeking simple ways to serve the group”
Western culture in general values task accomplishment more than relationship building. That’s the reason why we are more biased toward telling than asking questions.
TOOLS FOR LEADERS
THE LEADER’S JOB
BE VULNERABLE FIRST
The leader’s job to be vulnerable first: “The burden then falls on the higher-status person to ask for help and to create the climate that gives permission for the help to be given.”
Four Forms of Inquiry
How to ask and not to ask questions
Some questions are just another form of telling.
Some seemingly very open ways of inquiring are actually quite controlling of the other person.
Study of cardiac surgical teams
Study of cardiac surgical teams doing open-heart surgery
Some of these teams functioned better in doing this very complicated surgery than others
Successful teams was sitting at a table with each other in the cafeteria
Spending time together, getting to know each other at a more personal level
They evidently felt they needed to do in order to function well as a team in the OR
High Performance Healthcare
“There is growing acknowledgment that organizations perform better when the employees in various departments recognize their degree of interdependence and actively coordinate and collaborate with each other.”
“The key to coordination is shared goals, mutual understanding of each other’s work, and mutual respect.”
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TAYLORISM AND LEAN MANAGEMENT
Plenty of capital needed
No extra capital needed
Stable customer demand
Fluctuating customer demand
A large volume of production —> millions
A small volume of production —> thousands
Producing large batches from the same item
Producing just as much as needed
Building up large inventories in different stages of the supply chain. Then transporting inventories infrequently between stages of producing or across the supply chain.
NO inventory (or as little inventory as possible). Transporting finished items immediately between stages or across of the value chain.
Operating based on sales forecast
Operating based on actual customer demand
Long queues between production steps.
Applying Just in Time (JIT) in production.
Business activity organized around organizational departments.
Business activity organized around cross-functional and multi-disciplinary teams.
An eventual mistake is found out long after it has been made, after it was passed to the next stage of the production.
Using the technique of “mistake-proofing” (Poka-yoke) to find and correct mistakes immediately in every stage of the production.
Rigid, rule-based system. Change is hard and slow.
Flexible system, based on continuous improvement. Change is constant and build into the system.
Top-down controlled: workers are “cogs in the machine”.
Bottom-up controlled: employees are are creative workers, responsible and empowered to make important decisions.
Very slow changeovers in the system.
Extremely fast changeovers thanks for pre-built external setups (SMAD).
Forces that disrupt smooth flow
READY FOR THE NEXT?
Contemporary competing views of strategy
Based on principles of industrialism.
Believes that knowledge is “linear, functional causes of actions” —> you can make detailed plans and execute them.
Strategy is separate from organizational action —> thinking is separate from action.
📖 Philip Selznick’s 1957 book, Leadership in Administration
📖 Alfred Chandler’s 1962 volume, Strategy and Structure