Barbara's Blog

Master the Art of Collaborative Questions

Posted on 6/29/2017 by Barbara Blake in leadership executive coaching collaboration

Collaboration requires a number of skills, the most important is the ability to ask the right questions. Asking Idea Source and Driving Quest questions will deepen the discussion. Better solutions will result.

Collaboration seems to be the main topic in every office, in every meeting. Work environments are redesigned to encourage collaboration. Yet collaboration is elusive for many organizations. How as a leader can you build an ecosystem of collaboration in your team? The answer is simple – ask questions and listen well.

Over the past three months I have been in conversations with leaders in which this topic of collaboration arose. The conversations fall generally into two categories; my team doesn’t collaborate or I am a good collaborator. Let’s focus in on the latter statement, I am a good collaborator.

In the stories, I hear snippets such as “I know what the right solution is” or “I have all these ideas that I put out there for discussion”. After a moment, I pose a question to the leader, “What questions did you ask your team (or colleagues)? I am either met with silence and a blank stare or a list of tactical executing-related questions. I then challenge, what questions could you have asked? In that next moment the realization that their collaboration skills are not as strong as they thought is an “aha” moment.

To be a good collaborator one must master the skill of asking deep, thoughtful and insightful questions. Followed by careful engaged listening. The objective is to create a richer conversation in which more possibilities are expressed, different viewpoints are teased out and finally create a path that answers the quest.

We all know open-ended questions elicit more information than questions requiring a yes or no answer. How do you craft a collaborative question? First recognize that there are at least two categories of questions; what generated the idea and how will it answer the driving quest of the collaboration?

Idea Source Questions – What connection did you make to other scenarios that spurred this concept? What did you observe or hear that triggered the connection?  (For example, the idea of the ATM came from the situation in which the bank was closed and cash was needed and realizing there were other services not dependent on businesses being open; vending machines.)

Driving Quest Questions – What behavior assumptions are you making about the user/customer? How does this make the situation better or meet a hidden need? How does this change the experience? What experience are you creating? How does that relate to our driving quest?

Questions, regardless of how good they are, fail to enrich a discussion if active listening does not follow. There is always the question after the question, the ones that dig deeper, help others articulate their ideas, bring out the emotional reaction to concepts.

The best leaders learn how to use questions and listen to inspire, encourage, direct and collaborate.

"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." - Oliver Wendell Holmes