Nine questions your colleagues are too embarrassed to ask

Are some of your colleagues feeling stuck about making change happen?

Here are some better questions to help your colleagues make change begin to happen.

Maybe it’s time to stop talking about the problem?

Here’s the dark secret…problem analytics are for your car mechanic and the scientists. When the issue is about people and people processes problem analytics destroy productivity. Your colleagues will be somewhat embarrassed by how much easier it is to make progress if you ask them, ‘What do you want instead of the problem?’

What if there’s no debate about who’s right/wrong?

With few exceptions in organizations (e.g., how do you fly an airplane) there are no right answers. It’s useful to disagree – that brings options to the discussion – but, debate means someone has to win. Winning debates is about being argumentative, not listening. So the debate winner is just as likely to be wrong. Instead ask your debaters, ‘What is that we want in common?’ ‘What are the outcomes that will help us make progress?’

How about we find a better way to deal with the angry voice in the room?

You don’t have to pay attention to angry voices simply because they demand the most attention. They can’t listen and they’re hard to listen to. Take them seriously, (they mean it), but not literally. Empathize with language like, ‘You sound like you are very frustrated’, and go back to your agenda.

What happens if no one is allowed to play the victim card?

In a world of people making a profession out of being a victim it’s useful to ask, ‘Despite the problem, what’s working?.’ Lives (and teams) lived defined by the damaging things that have happened before are automatically self-limiting. Fletcher Peacock says, water the flowers, not the weeds. Here’s someone who did.

Do we need to tell people what to do all the time?

Sometimes we have to ‘tell’, e.g., you are breaking the law. But most of the time if we keep telling people what to do, they will lose motivation, stop thinking, become disengaged, etc. Better to define what outcomes are desired and let them figure it out. Try. ‘Suppose we meet, maybe exceed the goals, what will we be doing more of, differently, better, etc. and, ‘How do you see yourself helping to achieve the goals?’

What if we make collaboration more than a nice-to-do option?

Collaboration is not an option; it’s a necessity. And, everyone is trying to collaborate, just not each other’s way. Don’t ask why they can’t work together. Instead, ask, ‘What have we managed to achieve (i.e., what’s worked)? What would our stakeholders (e.g., customers) want to see us doing? How would we see ourselves doing that? What first small steps might we take together?

What if we could leverage the strengths of people we think are our weak link?

Everyone has weaknesses. If we only amplify weakness chances are they will still deliver them. Get to what needs to be better by first amplifying what they do well. What they do well is the platform upon which they can move to a better place.

Could we actually coach people to find their own solutions, (not just yours)?

Peter Drucker said, ‘The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask’. That future is today. Asking people better questions that help them to come up with solutions wins in the short and long-term. Try, ‘When you’ve faced a situation like this before, what worked?’

What if letting go made us more authoritative leaders?

The difficult part of being a leader is the need to be right all the time. Wrong! Leaders brown-out on answers as much as their support staff. Stare them in the eye and say, ‘I don’t have a clue, but I suspect we do. What would be a good outcome for us?’ Close your mouth and listen for clues to the solution.

Does this sound too simplistic to resolve situations in a complex organization? Try it and see. 


What’s your communication tool for strategic change?

Frequent and open communication: the #2 best practice in change management

Here’s a tool to create powerful change communication, namely The Roundtable, a la ‘Kitchentable Conversation,’ as explained by Rick Wolfe of PostStone in a recent interview:

“I’ve simply tried to make our business conversations as much like a real life conversation as much as possible. The phrase that we usually use is to just call it a “kitchen table conversation.”

I would put a kitchen table, roundtable, at the very centre of change management. I think it’s a more efficient and effective tool than most of the other change tools available because it lets us strip away what isn’t important and really zero in on our conversation with each other on the things that are important.

One of the key purposes of kitchen table conversations is to be preparing the ground for action to understand what resources are going to be needed to make that action happen, and to make sure those resources are available. To understand what kind of commitments are going to be needed and to know what steps need to take place so that those commitments can be agreed.

I love its reliability. I love its power. Time and time again, when you sit down at the table and ask people a big question that they find to be an exciting question, you can be really confident that some wonderful answers are going to come out of it, and that if you ask people in a respectful way, they’re going to take action based on those credentials.

A kitchen table is that place where we let our guard down, where we really listen to people, where we really share with people, where we disagree with people not because we think they’re wrong, we disagree with them because we know that by really wrestling with the issues together, we can arrive at the truth.

The kitchen table conversation succeeds because of hospitality. And the host always has a special responsibility to make sure that the guests at the table feel that they’re… that this is a hospitable place.

You have to make sure that the shy people get a chance to get a word in, but those people who are larger than life are looking for you to help them tone it down – and I mean that quite seriously. All the larger than life people I’ve ever met loved people and they just get carried away and need a bit of help to know that. They need more feedback than the rest of us do to make sure that they leave room for the rest of us to be in the conversation.

People like wrestling at the kitchen table. That’s one of the reasons we come to the kitchen table, for a good rambunctious, lively, laughter-filled conversation.

I think that organizations would be able to move with more speed, that they would be more adaptable, more flexible, that even though they were moving with more speed, that the people on the team would be having more fun.”

Rick Wolfe of PostStone is a management consultant. Companies bring him in to help them find answers to big questions and turn those answers into action.

For a solution focused perspective on using the kitchen table for dynamic dialogue, here’s a case on asking the right questions