Effective Questions: Are your Team's Questions Killing your Business?Jul 09, 2021
We’ve all heard the phrase in school “ there are no stupid questions” and we all know why teachers lead with that line. Typically leaders want to encourage everyone to speak up, get involved and ask what they are curious about.
However, asking every question that comes to mind doesn't work when you want a high functioning team. For a business, family or sports team the questions that are introduced in a group dynamic can stall or even reverse the progress.
Remember that time when the person in the group asked “why are we even doing this?” and you felt the energy drop in the room? Or how about when a family member asks “are we there yet?”. Hmmm I’ve pondered… they’ve been “there” before, they know what “there” looks like, they can see we are not “there” .... and yet they are still asking a completely ineffective question.
What makes the question ineffective?
The question itself does not serve to connect, progress or solve. In fact, the question typically causes a stall or breakdown in the group dynamic. Ineffective questions typically come from frustration, boredom, a need for attention or laziness. I am not suggesting that this is the norm for yourself or the people you surround yourself with. I am suggesting that it is very human to succumb to asking ineffective (aka stupid) questions.
Why is it so important to contribute with effective questions?
They guide our brain. Asking the question leads our brain to look for the answer/s. “Why aren’t we making progress?” is a question that is far less effective than “How can we find a lasting solution?”
The first question looks for the problems. This may seem like a good thing, however our brains will naturally look for problems already and tend to need a nudge to focus on solutions. The second question already sees the problem and is not only looking for the solution but one that is lasting and includes more than one brain on the task (we).
Having run a business for over 15 years, coached thousands of people over 20 years and parented 5 children in a blended family, I find the ineffective questions fall into these 3 categories:
- Questions that the answer is already known. For example: Why are we doing this? Are we there yet?
- Questions that one could have found the answer but wants to be told. For example: What time is it? What is on the schedule?
- Questions that don’t serve the individual or anyone else. For example: Why is this happening? Why is this so hard?
To question effectively it takes practice. Even when you have consciously practiced for yourself you may find that those around you are still looking for answers from you. If you are in a leadership role it becomes increasingly difficult for you to complete your own requirements when you are answering the questions of those around you.
It takes more energy to teach people around you to question effectively but it is worth it. When people in a group setting or workplace are collectively questioning effectively the outcomes are produced more quickly and have been vetted by multiple brains instead of just one or two leaders.
Key questions to support those around you to question effectively: Asked with authentic curiosity and support.
- What do you think about this?
- How do you think you could find out?
- How can we function together better?
- Is this serving this situation?
- What do we want this to look like going forward?
- How does this serve our bigger picture or outcome?
- What would you do if you were me?
- What steps can we create to make the outcome we want inevitable?
- What is your timeline for this? What do you think my timeline for this is?
- Why is this important? (to you, me, our business, our objectives)
Aside from supporting higher level questioning, lastly we want to approach others with questions that have supporting actions. This is a key way to show your team that you are considering their situation, the long term outcome and that you have taken steps on your own to support the objectives, team or direction.
The best leads for questions for team productivity:
- I put myself in your shoes… and have a question about...
- When I analyzed the previous methods I discovered that… so I wonder if…
- When I tried these three things I found… I think… what are your thoughts?
- I am about to .... I am going to use this method unless you recommend another?
- I have 3 solutions to this problem… can I run them by you?
Effective questions are powerful and worth refining as part of a system within your culture. They lead to learning, connecting, efficiency in communication and creation. Keep questioning and let us know how this serves your team culture and function for optimal performance.
To learn more about the science of questions check out this research article the value of asking questions
To learn more about our ongoing coaching program check out the Empowered TEAM
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