Plenty of books are filled with lists of questions. However, asking questions without a clear objective is like playing the question Lotto. Very occasionally you might get lucky and win, but most of the time you will come up empty- handed. That's a loss for you and for your team member. There is rarely a right answer to a wrong question.
There are four main reasons to ask questions:
- To Understand
- To Assess
- To Innovate
- To Motivate.
It is important to know your objectives before you start asking. Within each objective, your question might focus on the person or the project/process. For example, if you want to understand your team's projects and processes, ask questions like:
- What's the goal?
- What's the plan?
- What are your options?
In addition, inspiring coaches ask questions to help understand their people, such as:
- In which areas would you like to grow?
- What do you love to do?
- What do you need to be at your very best?
Showing genuine interest in your employees as people is the foundation of a fully engaged team. Theodore Roosevelt summed it up nicely when he said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If you need to motivate your people to action, you might ask:
- What needs to happen for this to succeed?
- What do you think the next steps should be?
- What's in it for you and the team if this is wildly successful?
Certain coaching questions work in almost any situation. These are some of our favorites that we have heard inspiring coaches ask:
- What do you think?
- Why do you think this is happening?
- What can we start, stop, and keep in order to improve our work?
- And what else? (Repeated as a prompt to obtain more details.)
- Is this your very best work? (Lee's mentor asks him this question.)
When coaching to improve performance, ask questions to identify the root cause of the performance problem. People initially respond with a symptom to the problem (We missed the project timeline because we were understaffed), but additional clarifying questions reveal the root cause (The team was not properly trained, and roles were not defined and documented).
The following table serves as a guide to keep your coaching questions purposeful: