I have a fair bit of experience sitting in meetings and wondering how to get to the crux of a matter or get beyond what might be assumptions or pre-conceived decision making. When we are in meetings how much do we really challenge ourselves or question statements or make assumptions that what someone has said is right? Building expertise in questioning techniques is a powerful skill to possess and develop. I don’t profess to be an expert, but I have learnt over time that there are some questions that in the right context, are those powerful questions that will challenge, support good decision making, get beyond assumptions. Context, of course, is critical. Context tells us:

  • What and who are the external and internal influences on our situation
  • About the politics at play
  • The history of a situation so we can assess the capacity of a system to change
  • The network of relationships and decision makers that are critical to success
  • The judgement “call” we need to make about timing
  • The capacity to stretch the system to achieve our outcome

Taking into account the context that you find yourself in, here are some questions you might use when scoping a project or plan, when deciding strategy or problem solving approaches or to help a member of staff to think through a situation. These, of course, need to be varied to suit the situation you are in and to suit your own style.

  • What outcome are we going for here?
  • Why? Why? (Why?)
  • What is the context?
  • If we were to do an MRI scan on the organisation/function/situation what would it tell us?
  • What would be the key 6-7 elements of an MRI scan we would use to assess the organisation/function?
  • Would this influence our thinking about the outcome, the process, the key players that need to be involved?
  • Are there any principles we want to use for decision making?
  • Can the system tolerate the change or do we need to do further preparation to enhance success?
  • If you have developed a strategy or problem solving approach, how would you do a risk assessment on it?
  • What might be the unforeseen consequences of that decision or strategy? (I see lots of quick decision making but little thought about the downstream scenarios that might play out and the consequences for each of them and therefore the approach to handling each scenario)
  • If we are not getting anywhere with the discussions, in what way are you the problem?
  • What would stop you from implementing the planned strategy?
  • You might even ask “what would happen if you did nothing?”
  • I like asking each person in the room to summarise the situation as they understand it and state their recommendations
  • (Be careful what you wish for)