In teams, when questions are used effectively, they create alignment and have the almost magical ability of bringing everyone onto the same wavelength. They reduce friction and when used well, questions create the glue that can keep your team together in turbulent times.
So, how can you use questions to create better connections in your team? Here are 7 practical strategies you can try straight away.
Before you ask a question, be clear of your intention. Different kinds of questions have different intentions sitting behind them. This sets the direction and the type of answers you’ll hear back. For example, asking a curious question (what could be possible if….) sends the conversation in a very different direction to a closing question (where should we take this next?). Asking the right question with the right intention at the right time creates a flow and takes the conversation in the direction it needs to go.
Ask answerable questions - Have you ever been asked a question for which there was no answer? It’s the proverbial “How long is a piece of string?” question. Demanding that people provide answers that don’t exist is disempowering and leaves team members feeling disconnected.
Test your assumptions - The questions we create in our heads are built on dozens of assumptions. Sometimes these are valid and sometimes they aren’t. Likewise, sometimes our assumptions are shared by others in the conversation or they may be completely oblivious to them. Testing assumptions first can avoid unnecessary misinterpretations of questions and enable you to start the conversation where your people are, not where you expect them to be.
Embrace the practice of thinking together - Certain questions enable team members to sit back from day-to-day operations and talk about how the team is going or what is happening within it. An example of such a question is “If a stranger walked in right now, what would they see?” Try this out and ask everyone in the team to share their view. I guarantee it will change the conversation.
Avoid Q&A ping-pong - Sometimes we wrongly perceive that questions and answers have a one-to-one ratio. In other words, we ask a question and as soon as someone has provided one response, we consider the question answered. Asking if anyone else has a view (for the same question) will show that you want to hear what team members have to say and value their contribution.
Create a courageously curious culture - Asking questions is inherently courageous. It can mean admitting we don’t know the answer (perhaps when we think we should) or being willing to open up a challenging topic. People who are longing for belonging want to be heard and that means being able to ask important questions, as well as giving an opinion. How you respond and lead by example will determine whether team members feel safe to do this.
Start small and start now - Questions provide teams with steppingstones through the unknown and a way to feel connected and in control. Carefully created questions give structure and enable wicked problems to be collectively confronted, one tiny step at a time.
So, I’m curious. 🤔
Next time you sit down with your team, what question could you ask that would create a better connection and change the cadence of the conversation?