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The Magic of Questions

Have you ever worked on a project where you thought the work was just spinning and not really going anywhere? Often, we know at a high level what it is we need to do (e.g., evaluate this program, develop a new program, find a solution to a problem etc.), but getting there can prove to be more challenging than initially expected. Sometimes, something as simple as a question has the power to have a profound impact on what we do and why. I love questions because they come from a place of openness, learning and vulnerability. Questions allow us to approach a discussion with an open mind to hearing diverse ideas and solutions.

Have you ever been in a meeting where a group continues to talk and talk (often great discussion!) but it feels like the conversation is going nowhere? Then somebody in the group pauses, asks a great question and the group completely re-focuses. These great questions have the power to serve as an inflection point in the conversation and ultimately can have a profound impact on the discussion and the decisions that are made. These moments are like magic!

Questions also are a very powerful tool to frame and shape projects from the start. Lately I have been appreciating the value in generating questions to guide our work. Questions can be a useful tool to sort through all the noise and really focus an individual or a group on what it is that we are trying to achieve. Simply put, “Through this work, what question(s) are we trying to answer?” On a recent project I was involved with, the group was focused on a particular solution to a problem. By working with the group and encouraging them to step back to the core question(s) they were trying to answer, their focus completely shifted from the path they were initially going down. Questions go hand-in-hand with project goals as often by working through our key questions, our goals take shape.

“Questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organizations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds trust and rapport among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards”

Some of our favourite questions for getting groups unstuck are:

  • What does the problem look like? Feel like?

  • Why is the problem happening? Why? Why? Why? Why? (5 Whys lean methodology)

  • What are our criteria for decision making? How will we evaluate options?

  • What specific information are you missing that would enable you to make a decision on this?

  • What would success look like to you?

Are questions a tool that you use in your practice? What are your favourite questions? Let us know if you have ever experienced the magic of questions and any tips you have for asking good questions!

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