Literature Quality

Quality Part II: “Es kann immer besser werden”

or "It can always be better".

This is a brief summary with personal insights about an enlightning book "Humble Inquiry" by Edgard H. Schein.

The trickiest thing about our “errors” is that they are hard to detect, otherwise we would not make them in the first place.

On the other hand, we are inclined to see mistakes made by others.

This assumption is, in my opinion, a great starting point if we aim at improving our team’s work. It is an incredible tool.

Quality improvement in a company (or any organization) starts by isolating weak points, what we commonly call “errors”.

"Es kann immer besser werden – it can always be better"

First things first, it is crucial to detect every single mistake, false step, or underperformance. Second step is of course, to search for a solution, or at least an improvement.

Easy as it sounds, we cannot forget that this is not automatic: it cannot be imposed from above (the management), rather it has to be built one brick at a time, through daily practice and it can happen only thanks to open and frank communication. It’s a collective action, involving all stakeholders.

We are often too focused on the result, on implementing strategic choices, following market trends and neglect to improve communication inside our organisation.

Communication is like the oil inside the cylinders of an engine. If it’s lacking or low quality, our engine sooner or later will stop working smoothly.

How can we create and nourish communication?

Through what E. Schein calls “humble inquiry” i.e. asking questions with open mind and sincere interest in the answer.

In Western society, we prefer to assert (“to tell”) rather than ask (“inquire”), because asking is felt as sign of ignorance and inferiority. When we ask questions, we temporarily transfer our power to the other, we make ourselves vulnerable as it implies that the other knows more than we do. We need to overcome this cultural bias, and the question shall be considered the will to go deeper, to improve.

What, when and how we ask questions – it’s all bricks building a relationship, which is, by definition a complex matter. It takes time and trust.

Maybe my personal takeaway of all, is the approach: it has to be transparent, respectful and sincere, if we wish to have clear communication, we need to build reciprocal trust and we do it by temporarily abdicating to the power of assertion.

Instead of you and me, it is advisable to go for a “we”. This shift in perspective will bring a joint solution to a problem.

In his book, Schein gives a beautiful example.

Colleagues are like runners in a relay race. 

Each runner has to do their best, but also needs to think about the next team member “how shall I pass the baton?”, “Is my team mate left or right handed?”. I do depend on them for the final result of the race, the same way they depend on my performance. This is a clear metaphor standing for: “how can I facilitate the next step?”.

Quality Part II: “Es kann immer besser werden”

Now let me share a personal example: when I talk to our CAT Tool specialist to solve an issue. His activities are outside my field of competence. I ask questions, yet I still don’t always understand the answer. So, before answering my questions, maybe he shall try to understand what I really want to know, as sometimes I am not asking the right questions. On the other hand, I need to understand the essence of his “geek” language and see how I can find the right information. We need to put together different aspects, maybe client’s request, the choice for the best technical tool for the specific case, as well all the needs of a linguist, for instance.

Our industry joins different cultures by definition and we need to find a common tongue to reach the common goal. We are aware of how a virtuous workflow will impact on final result. As tasks become more complex and articulate we need to find a good solution together. The key is asking humble questions and listening with an open mind.

The success of what we do will depend on the way we pass the ‘baton’.

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