Leaders: 20 Great Questions To Ask Your Team This Week

by Alli Polin on May 17, 2016

questions to ask your team

Early in my career, like most new managers, I thought I needed to have all the answers for my team. It was an old school way of leading and mobilizing the troops. Finally, I had a leader who showed me another way (thank goodness!) and the power of leading through questions.

When Laura set a meeting for the two of us to scope out the next phase of work, I was ready. Notebook in hand, we headed up to a conference room with a big whiteboard. The two of us sat at the table; I looked at her, she looked at me and asked: “Okay, what’s next?”

I waited for her to start telling me her answer to her question. It had to be rhetorical; a kind way to open the conversation and a signal for me to be sure my pen was ready to start scribbling furiously, but she didn’t say a word.

“What do you think?” she queried again.

Um…

I had a bunch of ideas but knew that she had far more experience in the area than I did so I thought out a weak response like, “We have a lot of choices. What do you think?”

She wasn’t taking my cue. She pushed further: “Let me hear some of your ideas.”

Over the course of the next two hours, we played ping pong. We bounced ideas off of each other not as leader and subordinate but as colleagues focused on a shared goal. (Isn’t that how it should be?)

She didn’t let me off the hook either. Not only did she ask me questions again and again but also resisted the urge to start speaking and fill the silence. It was one of the first times I remember making the transition from manager / do-er to leader / think-er. Thanks to Laura and her questions, I found that I too had ideas, insights and experience worth sharing.

If you’re stuck in the mode of telling your team what to do because they need the direction, challenge yourself to take a step back and make the choice to lead through questions.

Ground rules:
Ask and give people a chance to think before they respond (don’t fill the silence)
Don’t judge their answers; play yes AND instead of yes, BUT
Assume that the people on your team are smart and capable because they ARE
Give them a chance to lead the way forward

20 Questions to Ask Your Team This Week and EVERY Week

In no particular order…

  1. How can I help?
  2. What do you think?
  3. What needs to happen next?
  4. What should we do?
  5. What do you need to do?
  6. What’s possible from here?
  7. Who do we need?
  8. How can we take it up a level?
  9. Where are we now?
  10. How far have we come?
  11. What do you need from me?
  12. What’s missing?
  13. What can we use that we already have?
  14. Alternatives?
  15. What else?
  16. Where do you need me?
  17. What’s in our way?
  18. What’s the cherry on top?
  19. What scares you?
  20. How can I clear the path forward?

What are some of your favorite questions to ask your team to expand their thinking and empower them to lead the way forward?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz May 17, 2016 at 7:06 am

Alli,

A question empowers so much more than directing with answers. A question also empowers innovation and creativity.

We need to ask more of our teams so they can do more for our mission!

Jon

Reply

Terri Klass May 17, 2016 at 9:06 am

Questions are so empowering as they involve us and help us see how we can make a contribution.

One of my favorite questions is one that you mention: “What do you think?” When I collaborate with other consultants I place such a high value on being asked for my input and it really kick-starts my delving into a particular challenge. When someone I am working with goes on and on about their suggestions without coming up for air and asking me for my input, I shut down.

Thanks Alli and can’t wait to share!

Reply

Terri Deuel May 17, 2016 at 11:35 am

Hi Alli,

Love this post. It is relevant to work I have been doing lately. I am like Terri Klass – if someone goes on and on without asking for my input, I tune out. Far worse, I disengage, lose my enthusiasm and go through the motions.

I suspect many of us are like that. And as leaders, it’s not the way we want to make people feel. We want people to know they matter, and asking questions is a tool to show others they are valued.

A key as you note is to ask and be quiet. Let silence fill the space until the person answers the questions. Some people need time to process, and silence can give the space required.

A couple of questions to add to your list:

* What aren’t we talking about that we should be addressing?
* Can you say more about that?
* What have we decided today?

Reply

LaRae Quy May 17, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Loved this Alli! The power of questions is undeniable. Focusing on the right questions is far more powerful than focusing on right answers….

Reply

Chery Gegelman May 25, 2016 at 6:25 am

Great post Alli! I love that Laura asked you, and pressed you, and encouraged you, and waited, and listened! What a great leader!

Your questions are great tips for people that are trying to lead at a higher level!

Reply

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