High Performing Teams & Open Ended Questions

Last week I worked with a brilliant team on a strategy for the 2012-13 horizons. They are the best in the world at what they do – the undisputed world champions.  You know you are dealing with champions because of what is present at the point of engagement and also because of what is not present. Here are some of the characteristics I observed and experienced with this team. They are…

  1. Focused on goals and on realizing the intended future state.
  2. Open in communication. Ready to challenge each other’s premise and ideas.
  3. High on value. Low on ego.
  4. Present in the moment. Fully engaged.
  5. Ready to speak their mind and to try new ways.
  6. Not defensive. Not political.
  7. Agile and ready to change and adapt.
  8. Fast to reframe problems as opportunities.
  9. Capable of active listening and intense ideation and collaboration.
  10. Committed to turn setbacks to learning and growth experiences.

Developing strategy is about delineating a series of plausible future states, creating options and aligning a course of action. Our “Hot Seats Exploration” process helps us accelerate the conversation, create high engagement and rapid prototyping of ideas.  In this exercise we guide the conversation through divergence and then convergence phases as the object we explore comes into focus.  We shift from expanding the range of ideas and options (divergence) to aligning on a preferred course of action (convergence).

In the divergence phase we practice framing open-ended questions. I was asked this week: “What is the difference between HOW and WHAT questions?” Here is a simple way to think about it:

  1. HOW promotes prescriptive answers. WHAT promotes explorative responses.
  2. When you are in (A) and seeking to arrive to a KNOWN end-state (B) – use HOW questions: How do we get from A to B?
  3. When you are in (A) and are seeking to discover a new UNKNOWN end-state (B) – use WHAT questions: What opportunities are available to us in a new end state B?
  4. Language is important. Your words, your narrative invoke images. Images create feelings that impact the brain chemistry and state of mind of the people you engage. When you ask: “How can we extract value?” you invoke the image of a dentist (extract). When you reframe the question to “What value capture opportunities are available for us?” you evoke the image of a fisherman (capture). Dentists and Fishermen bring up a very different set of associations in our unconscious mind where creativity and innovation comes into the picture.

High performing teams are adaptive. They are capable of holding open-ended conversations, ready to coalesce and agree on a course of action and are committed to follow through and execute. Thank you.

© Aviv Shahar

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