Press Release, April 2001
To Ask or Not to Ask: Developing a Question-Friendly Culture
Project management guru Stan Portny says your company's success may depend upon whether employees feel comfortable enough to ask questions.
Does your company have a question-friendly culture? When you are working on a project, do you feel comfortable asking the head honcho to clear up any confusion you may have? If you are the manager, do you encourage employees to come to you with their questions - and do you really mean it?
Project management consultant Stan Portny - president of Stanley E. Portny and Associates, LLC and author of the new Project Management For Dummies® (Hungry Minds, Inc., 2001, ISBN: 0-7645-5283-X, $19.99) - hopes the answers to all of the above are a fervent yes. He has seen too many instances in which a manager's "open door policy" has become fodder for cynical water-cooler jokes.
"Sure, there are some company cultures that discourage questions, but these are rare," Portny says. "In most cases, managers are very receptive to questions and usually have answers and valuable insights they would be happy to share. After all, it's in everyone's best interest that work gets done quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, many employees don't realize that this is the case. For various reasons, they assume management is unwilling to listen - and this perception becomes a major impediment to project success. Opening the lines of communication can make everyone's job easier."
It's true that the breakdown of the rigid old-school business hierarchy has eliminated much employee fear of approaching authority figures. However, the growing emphasis on "project teams" as a method for getting work done creates the necessity for a whole new level of human interaction. After all, projects often require that people work closely with employees from other departments, other companies, and in our increasingly global society, sometimes even other cultures ... and questions must often be asked.
Creating a question-friendly workplace is a two-way street. That's why Portny offers the following tips to askers as well as askees:
If you are the manager or project leader:
If you are the employee or team member who needs answers:
Always remember that questions are a useful and necessary tool for learning and making progress toward your goal.
"As the poet John Donne said, 'no man is an island,'" Portny reminds us. "I think that quote applies beautifully to business and especially to project work. No one has all the answers; we must rely on the knowledge and expertise of others. Feeling free to ask questions - and being willing to respond to questions others ask - is the key to positive and productive interaction between team members. And that is the path to project success."