From the time we have been young children, we have been taught to pursue the right answer. Our parents asked us to correctly identify pictures in a book. Teachers gave us tests to check our understanding of a subject. We interviewed for jobs hoping to correctly answer the interviewers’ questions. And at work we are constantly being asked to solve problems. Even in our leisure, we play games and watch TV game shows that challenge our ability to answer questions.
It’s really quite amazing how much value we place on answers, considering an answer is only as good as the question that spurred it. An answer’s value comes from its ability to solve a problem. A useful answer is more likely if the problem is properly defined, and a well-defined problem is usually stated in the form of a question. Maybe the game show Jeopardy is onto something. More value lies in the question, than in the answer.
To understand your team’s effectiveness, begin evaluating the quality of the questions team members ask. Successful teams not only ask a lot of questions, they learn to ask powerful questions. So what does a powerful question look like?
A powerful question challenges assumptions. Take the question, “How do we improve morale?” This question assumes morale needs to be improved and that it can be improved. A better question might be “How do we know whether morale needs improving?”
A powerful question pushes the group to look at a problem from a new perspective. Take a simple question such as, “What are the problems with our software?” Looking at the problem from another perspective, the question could be, “What aspects of our software do our customers adore?”
A powerful question encourages creativity. Imagine being part of a group trying to answer the question, “What should we do for this year’s holiday party?” Perhaps you’d rather be in the group working on the question, “What can we do at the holiday party that will create a permanent, positive memory for the guests?”
Finally, a powerful question focuses the group. When the question isn’t focused, the team wastes its energy addressing issues that aren’t pertinent. They struggle with global questions such as “How do we improve quality?” A better question might be, “In what ways can we use performance statistics to improve hold times in our customer call center?”
When it comes to questions, it’s critical to remember that you get what you ask for. Successful teams are clear about what they want and ask powerful questions to move them quickly towards their goals.
Image credit: dsb nola