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Ask the right questions: What? – Part 1

Last week we focused on three reasons why it is important to ask the right questions.  While it is critical to understand why we would want to ask questions of our partners and colleagues, in order to benefit the most from the questions, we need to ask the right questions.  While the “right” questions can definitely be different depending upon the situation, this week we are focused on the first two “right”questions that can be applied to many different situations, particularly when working in a coalition or a team.

  1. What is working well?  This is often a great first question to ask. It can be asked as part of a formal evaluation process or it can be asked in a conversation with a team member. This question can be particularly helpful to really understand what “stands out” to that person on how things are going and what is working particularly well. This can be a way to assess what priorities you want to continue implementing (because they are working well) and may also be something that could help you write a “success story” that could be shared with the rest of your coalition or key stakeholders.  In my experience, when someone shares what is working well, it helps us know that we need to keep focusing on this strategy and perhaps even put more resources toward it. The answers to this question may or may not be a surprise to you. If you are regularly convening a workgroup and you have active and consistent participation, folks are likely to say that this workgroup is “working well” because they show up and actively participate in it. Even if you think you know the answer to this question, it’s still important to keep asking it in order to assess how things are really going with your team.
  2. What could be improved? This question can be worded in many different ways; however, I like this approach because it still keeps the question “positive” which helps your partners, particularly those who may be new to the coalition, be more honest in their responses. Some folks may be uncomfortable being honest if you ask “what is not working well” because they don’t know how you will respond to negative feedback.  If you know the person very well and have a good relationship with him, you may be able to directly ask what is not working well, but if you don’t know the person very well or if you are asking this in a group setting, it’s often best to frame it as “what can be improved.” Be careful when you ask this question; however, because if people are honest and there are things that can be improved, it is really important that you think very carefully about how you can take action on their suggestions.

While these may seem like really basic questions, I’ve found that they can really help us figure out what we want to keep doing and what things we need to reconsider.  Join me next week as we talk about two more “right questions” to ask.

So what about you? When have these questions helped you in your team or coalition?

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