4 sharp questions you need to ask your team

February 13, 2013
in Featured Article,Managing & Communicating

Intelligent leaders don’t know everything. But they’re smart enough to ask the right questions.

Posing sharp inquiries elevates your team’s thinking. A lively back-and-forth exchange of information and ideas turns everyone into vested participants in the organization’s success, rather than passive spectators.

Here are four simple questions that effective leaders ask their colleagues:

1. What’s the point of this activity? By asking, “Do we really know why we do this?” you enable employees to step back and see the larger purpose in what they’re doing. Or not. In some cases, your question can expose time-wasting activities or exercises that your team can jettison. Just make sure to dig for specifics. Wave off general responses such as, “To make money” or “Because it’s how we do business.”

2. What’s the third way? All too often, managers get ensnared in either-or thinking. They identify two options and pick one. But their narrow analysis prevents them from considering less obvious alternatives.

Ask about a third way—an option that widens the debate from two choices to three. Rather than weigh whether to mass-produce or customize your product, for example, explore mass customization to capture the best advantages of both.

3. What happens if our assumptions are wrong? Just as banks undergo “stress tests” to determine their resilience under worst-case scenarios, you can challenge your staff to examine whether their proposals can withstand pressures or negative developments.

They may present their ideas as workable if certain conditions occur. But the real test is what unfolds under unusually adverse conditions.

4. How much is enough? When discussing problems with your team, know when to call it quits and resolve the matter. Otherwise, you can talk an issue to death and wind up without an action plan.

— Adapted from Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber, Collins Business.

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