Understanding the Six Questions
Updated: Nov 17
In The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni argues that a healthy organisation has an advantage over every other organisation. No matter how smart - strategic, financially prudent, technically proficient etc - an organisation is, if it is unhealthy it will always fall short of its potential and often fall apart. The hard thing is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an organisation to naturally become healthier. However, if an organisation is healthy, then it can naturally become smarter. With this in mind, Lencioni explains his thoughts on how an organisation, led from the front by its point leader and leadership team, can intentionally become healthy.
The Advantage outlines four disciplines of organisational health - building a cohesive leadership team, creating clarity, communicating clarity and overcommunicating clarity (as you can see, we share a love for clarity). The six questions are the key to the second discipline of organisational health - creating clarity. The power of the six questions is in how they work together. The questions are:
1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What's most important, right now?
6. Who must do what?
In The Advantage, Lencioni explains an organisation's answers to these questions can help to create unparalleled clarity for a leadership team, and eventually for the rest of the organisation. At the same time, it's important to note that the six questions document is not a silver bullet that replaces all other documents. Don't think of it as a replacement for your vision, brand, strategic documents, budgets or role descriptions. Instead, think of the six questions as a document primarily for back-of-house, to help bring alignment and clarity within an organisation from the point leader, to the leadership team, to employees or volunteers all the way down the org chart.
I find it helpful to think of the six questions document as a brilliant starting point to inform anything and everything else that the organisation requires. Particularly regarding external communications such as vision and branding, and internal planning documents such as strategic documents, budgets and role descriptions. Let's unpack the first question, 'why do we exist?' so you can start to get a picture of what the six questions are all about and how they can be implemented within an organisation.
Why Do We Exist?
When I first saw this question, I approached it as an alternative to an organisation's vision. However, they are very different things. In my opinion, vision is all about where an organisation is going and needs to paint a clear picture of the idealistic future. Vision is all about the long-term destination of the organisation, can be a powerful driver for motivating and inspiring people internally and externally, and benefits from careful wordplay to find a simple way to express the vision. As communicator, author and pastor, Andy Stanley, says, "make your vision simple, portable and memorable." Simple, portable and memorable is not the goal of answering the question 'why do we exist?'
If vision is all about where an organisation is going, then this question is more about where an organisation has come from; even why the organisation was founded. The thing I've found most helpful about answering this question is the freedom Lencioni gives for the answer to be completely and totally idealistic and inspirational. There is no wordplay required. Instead of exerting effort finding exactly the right three-word phrase, point leaders and leadership teams are encouraged to seek clarity no matter how clunky the answer might sound.
If the organisation was founded to revolutionise an industry, then that should be articulated. If it was founded to make a difference in a specific community above all else, then that should be the answer. The freedom in answering this question is there because the other five questions are much more practical. Issues of specific behaviours, strategies and priority come later and compliment the idealistic and inspirational answer to this question.
As you may have seen in the example on the six questions page of our website, Clarity's answer to 'why do we exist?' is 'to fill the world with great organisations that build the church'. For us, this answer helps to identify three things that are deep and foundational truths about Clarity.
First, Clarity was formed to see 'great organisations' built. For us, as much as we love working with individual leaders and team dynamics, it's about great organisations. We have an unquenchable passion to understand the unique organism which is the organisation and we know that more than any individual, or even any specific team, a great organisation can make an immeasurable difference in the world. We also know that building a great organisation can only start with a point leader, and leadership team, who are committed to the process. But that's what it's all about, and what it's always been about - great organisations.
Second, we're not interested in being confined by geography - we want to 'fill the world' with great organisations. We are in an age of instantaneous face-to-face communication over the internet and the ability to travel across the world in less than a day. For us, that means that the impact of great organisations isn't just for Australia or the Western world. It also means that we dream of opportunities to start, invest in, and consult to great organisations without limit and with unfathomable potential impact.
Third, Clarity was founded to 'build the church'. That doesn't mean we only work with organisations connected with the church and it definitely doesn't mean that we only work with churches. Instead, it's simply an honest and core part of why Clarity was founded and provides us with constant inspiration to do what we do, and do it to the best of our ability. As the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and creator of the Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels, says, 'the local church is the hope of the world'. I passionately agree. As I've just said, that doesn't mean we only work with Christian organisations, churches, or people who believe the same thing as us. But it is part of the answer to why we exist.
As you read over our explanation of why Clarity exists, I wonder if you have a sense of the DNA of our organisation? Can you see how the answer to this question articulates, for us, why Clarity was founded and the deep passion we have to impact the world for good? The real question, then, is why does your organisation exist? If you have the privilege to sit on a leadership team and/or to be the point leader of an organisation that's been around for a while, could you articulate why it was founded all those years, or even decades, ago? Maybe you're a pioneer or an entrepreneur with an unmistakeable passion to start an organisation - do you have an inkling of your answer to this question?
The thing I love most about helping point leaders, leadership teams, pioneers and entrepreneurs to answer the six questions is that the answers are already there. They are in the DNA of the organisation or in the heart and mind of the entrepreneur. Our job is not to come up with something we think you should do or to tell you who we think you should be. We have the privilege to facilitate a process that helps to draw out and articulate deep and significant truths that are already there. The answer to 'why do we exist?' is the starting point and foundation block for the other five questions. For you and your organisation, it could hopefully be the starting point and foundation block for a leadership team, and eventually a whole organisation, that is aligned, on the same page about the things that matter, and rowing in the same direction.
Can you imagine?