As a leader who runs a company or leads a team, you understand the importance of an organization's culture. After all, culture, which I define as the way people work together, "is a living, breathing organism that emerges from the social and psychological environment within your company," writes Adam Fridman and Hank Ostholthoff in their book, The Science of Story. And culture "is the key contributor to your organization's effectiveness and competitiveness."

But culture is challenging because it often creates obstacles to allowing employees to do their best work. Perhaps your current culture is preventing your employees from being as productive and purposeful as they can be. Maybe your people seem disengaged and apathetic. Individuals and teams don't collaborate. Employees fail to generate new ideas--and any potential innovation is getting stuck before it can be launched.

Before you can decide how to improve your culture, you need to assess the current state. What's working? What needs to change?

After all, write Fridman and Ostholthoff, "the roots of your culture grow deep and they can't be manipulated. Leaders can only act as catalysts for change, they cannot be dictators of change."

So the first step is to determine the current state on three levels: individual, team and organizational. To do, conduct one-on-one interviews that intensely explore how employees experience culture. (If you don't think employees will speak candidly to someone inside the company, bring in a consultant or firm to conduct the interviews.)

Here are 15 great questions to ask:

Individual level

Understand how the organization's values and purpose align with the goal and purpose of each employee:

1. Which activities bring you satisfaction regardless of whether you receive rewards and recognition? What part of your role inspires you the most?

2. Are there personal habits you believe they need to start, stop or continue to better align with the goals of the organization?

Team level

Analyze how the culture influences how employees work together as teams:

3. How does culture shape how your team manages goals and responsibilities?

4. Do any values have unintended consequences on how employees work together?

Organizational level

Discover how an employee views the overall culture of your organization:

5. What actions are needed to improve the current culture?

6. Is the company's purpose/mission memorable?

7. How about the values? Are they distinctive and memorable?

8. What does each value mean to you?

9. How do leaders exert their authority through formal practices?

10. What are some informal practices leaders rely on to get work done?

11. How is success rewarded?

12. How is failure addressed?

13. Do leaders behave in a way that's consistent with the company values?

14. What motivates leaders?

15. If we could do one thing to improve our culture, what would it be?

Once you've asked employees for their perspectives, analyze responses to extract that most important insights about your culture. Pay particular attention to what employees care about most, what motivates them, and what they perceives the organization's strengths and weaknesses to be.

These insights will form the foundation for developing both immediate and long-term action steps for taking your culture from where it is today to where it needs to be--collaborative, supportive, participative and productive.