Transformational Questions Open the Door to a More Positive Workplace

A couple of decades ago I was an employee in an organization going through a massive change process.   It appeared (at least to this employee) that very little thought was put into understanding the culture of the organization and how that might impact the results of this change effort. To start with, an expert consultant was brought in from another city, which in itself had a very different culture. While people in our organization came to work in Birkenstocks and casual clothes under their lab coats, the consultant showed up in a power suit, high heels, big hair and big jewelry. There was already a rift before we even began. This was the umpteenth change effort in the short time I’d been with the company, and the consultant could do little to get people really engaged in the process. There was a general feeling that this was ‘the flavour of the month’ and that if they could just go with the flow, it would soon pass over and we’d be on to the next thing. And that is exactly what happened.

As Dr. Robert Quinn describes in “The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within,”

launching a company-wide effort without considering the role of culture in the process is the equivalent of ‘learning that your brain surgeon is ignorant of the organ known as the heart.’

It’s disappointing that 20 years later, we’re still having some of the same conversations about change. This is especially true when it comes to the change required to improve organizational health. The easiest, but least effective approach is to implement a ‘wellness program’ without considering the role of culture, and this happens often. No real change is likely to result with this approach, as the determinants of health in the workplace are very connected to culture. These are things like control, flexibility and recognition.

You simply cannot create wellness by putting a program into a culture that supports bullying, fear, hierarchies, silos or any of the myriad of organizational structures and developments that we see in the many workplaces today.  A more proactive and effective way of creating the change that leads to a more positive, healthy workplace culture starts with asking transformational questions.

Here are 4 ways to incorporate culture into your change process, and open the door to creating a more positive workplace:

  • Ask transformational questions to gain knowledge that can be incorporated into your change effort, but also as a way of getting people involved. The question you use will help you create a new, shared vision. Some examples are:

What do we want our culture to be?

What is the most powerful action we can take right now?

How can we work with what is available?

Where are we? Where do we need to go?

  • Remember that there is no recipe for culture change. As much as we like step-by-step processes, following these cookie-cutter approaches rarely works. The change process that will work in your culture will depend on the collective learning that comes from your transformational questions.


  • Work to improve the social reflexivity of the team responsible for the change effort. This refers to how the team provides support to each other, how conflict is resolved, and what is the social and emotional climate of the team. (For more on this, see West, MA: Effective Teamwork: Practical Lessons from Organizational Research, 2012.)


  • Create a shared vision for a better workplace that people can get engaged in. Once you have asked the transformational questions about what your people want their culture to be, set a vision that encompasses those answers and encourage, promote and reward behaviours that support that vision.


Want to be one of the top places to work in Canada? Want your employees to rave about how great it is to work there? Want to spend less time recruiting staff because they’re already knocking on your door? Try this transformational approach to shift your culture in the right direction.


Deborah Connors

Deborah Connors teaches leaders to radically shift culture so that people can flourish. She is an engaging speaker, storyteller, author and coach.

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