You Better Ask Questions!

The role of a coach often centers on diagnosing problems and helping people come to an understanding of how their behavior or feelings are affecting their team and organization. Rarely is an issue so obvious that simply observing behavior and then sharing observations generate organizational or self-awareness. Questions are an important tool in any coach’s data gathering arsenal. Some questions are useful to expose management or leadership behaviors while others are targeted to generate knowledge at the individual and group level.  A sample of questions useful when working with individuals or groups (outside the earshot of their managers).

  1. Is it harder to get out of bed to come to work than it used to be?

This is a fairly blunt question that can be used once you have established a rapport with a team or group.  It establishes an admission that something has changed and that the respondent is less motivated.

  1. Are communication problems increasing?

Alternate:  Are there more arguments about how work will be done or who will do specific pieces of work?

Communication is one those core competencies teams require.  Communication problems are an indication of stress.  A combination of one-on-one conversation and group retrospectives are often needed to precisely identify the root cause and action plan to address the core issue.

  1. Were you asked for input to the change you are part of?

Lack of involvement often leads people to perceive that change is being done to them which increases stress and fear (and negative behavior).

  1. What is the most important part of your job?

Follow-on: Have you been asked to change how you do that part of your job?

Negative impacts to the part of a job that people care most about or feel are the most important will lead to lower motivation and potentially turnover unless they are redirected or the important bit is replaced with something else.

  1. How do you think this change will affect your family or team in the next year?

This is a storytelling type question.  People will sometimes feel safer describing how their team or family will be affected than describing the impact to themselves.

  1. Why is the organization putting all of this effort into changing?

If a team or an individual does not see (or understand) the reason for change they will tend not to invest significant effort make the change happen. Teams and individuals make numerous decisions on a daily basis, having an understanding of why a change is occurring will tend to make decisions that support the goal of the change.

  1. Will the change make it harder or easier to do your work?

The changes that make someone’s life harder better have a big payoff!

  1. What are the risks this change will cause (or make worse) you perceive?

Follow-on:  How can you mitigate the risks to you (or your team)?

Perceived risk generates stress and will lead people to gravitate toward the relative safety of old, well-known behavior.

  1. Do you have the skills to do the work you are being asked to perform?

Alternate:  How much training and support have you had access to in support of  the change?

FEAR, STRESS, BAD BEHAVIOR and TURNOVER!  When people don’t feel they have the skills or capabilities bad things happen.  This is a huge change failure.

  1.  Do you believe the change will succeed?

Follow-on:  What can you do to influence the chances of success?

Follow-on:  How will you benefit if the change succeeds?

When people believe a change will succeed they will be more apt to get on board with the change, put effort into making it happen, and into changing the minds of resistors. Believing that a change will fail demotivates everyone.

  1.  Is management handling the change process properly?

Follow-on: What is your greatest concern?

This question exposes feelings and improvement opportunities.

  1.  Is the organization’s culture consistent with change?

The “change” is not consistent with the organization culture is often code for many other issues that other questions may have exposed.  Always ask for examples of how the change clashes with the organization’s culture or values. Ask the person to tell you a story about how the organization would be different or how people would behave if the change did not conflict with the culture.  The change is inconsistent with their values.  

  1.  Can the people responsible for leading the change be trusted to do what is right for the organization?

Alternate: Who can you trust to tell you how you will be impacted?

Identifying trust problems are useful for helping tune change and how the change is being communicated.

While questions are not an end in their own right having the right question at the right time is often the only way to the get to the right end!