Learn about a company’s culture with these two questions

2013 KISSmetrics Summit
I studied organizational behavior during college. Over 10 years later, I still have recurring dreams (nightmares really) about waking up and not having studied for a major test or final that day. When I made it to class, I absorbed as much as I could about companies and how they behave. These days, I visit the offices of companies all the time.

It’s easy to walk into an office, look around and get a vibe for the culture. It’s harder to predict how they fix problems when they arise and react to change. Yet, how a company deals with change is the most important part of the culture. After walking into dozens of company offices and talking to hundreds of team members I’ve come up with two simple questions to ask anyone in the company to help explain how it operates.

What are you working on?
Why are you working on it?

Every company is different with varying strengths, weaknesses and styles. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. I’ve found that the key is to make people think about the work they are doing and why they are doing the work. If you ask the questions (and get answers to them), it’ll help you understand how decisions get made at the company and how much knowledge team members have about what’s important in the company.

If you are the CEO, an executive or manager in the company your goal is to make sure that everyone on your team can answer these questions without any hesitation or thinking about it. That’s when you’ll know that you’ve communicated exactly what needs to accomplished and why.

Ultimately, it’s your job to get everyone on the same page.