One of the most important skills for teamwork is the ability to ask questions effectively. Great questions can set the stage for teams to have constructive dialogue that can support creative thinking, structured planning, and problem solving.
Conversely, poorly asked questions can be destructive to teamwork. Bad questions can distract from the topics at hand and undermine the culture of cooperation that teams need to be most productive.
Skillful questioners tend to ask only a few, well selected questions and avoid asking many questions that others might ask. To avoid less fruitful questions, learn to wait; often you will find the answer or someone else will ask it.
Questions to avoid (also discussed here)
- Gratuitous challenges – questions designed to embarrass the answerer; cause unnecessary tension.
- Unnecessary questions – those that you could answer yourself with a little thought; derail meetings and waste time.
- Off-topic questions – self-explanatory; frustrating to everyone else.
- Confrontational questions – designed to inflame passions rather than gaining knowledge; lead to destructive conflict.
- Questions for which you already know answer – usually asked to demonstrate knowledge; these make the questioner look like a show-off and create resentment.
Skillful questioners frame their questions so as to open up the dialogue to new possibilities. Questions should show courtesy and respect for others and only be asked when you sincerely want the answers.
Questions to ask
- Clarifying questions – those that help ensure a full understanding of topics; essential for all team members to be working with common knowledge for planning problem solving.
- Exploratory questions – emphasize possibilities that have not yet been discussed; enhance teams ability to find creative solutions.
- Why questions – these examine the underlying rationale for actions, processes, or circumstances; useful for problem solving, planning and several other purposes, as explained here and here.
Asking questions is such a common activity that it is easy to simply take questioning skills for granted. However, with a little focus on asking the right questions (and avoiding the wrong questions) our teams can realize the benefits of skillful questioning.