One of your primary jobs as a leader is to inspire innovation among your team members. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially if your staff has gotten stuck in a routine. However, asking the right questions to shake people out of their usual thought patterns just might bring about your company's next big idea.

To give you some insight into how other leaders encourage ideas and solutions, we asked a panel of successful entrepreneurs to share one genius question they ask their teams to get the ball rolling. Try these out in your next brainstorming session to see what kind of innovation you spark.

Why are we doing this?

In any brainstorming conversation, it's key to explore the "why" behind it. If your team doesn't understand the purpose of the conversation or how their ideas will be used, they have no reason to put effort into it.

To this end, Kelley Weaver, CEO of Melrose PR, recommends asking your team to explain why what they're doing is important.

"This question can help refocus the conversation on ideas that directly address the problem and can lead to more creative solutions," Weaver says.

What would you do if you were the boss?

Lower-level employees may subconsciously limit their own ideas because they know they don't have the final say. That's why Baruch Labunski, CEO of Rank Secure, says leaders should encourage employees to think as if they were the boss, asking questions like, “What would you change about the business?” or “How would you solve this problem?”

"This is a great way to unlock ideas and get people to share things they might have been thinking but didn’t feel they could say," Labunski says. "Make sure the environment is safe so people feel comfortable sharing. Use an ideas box so people can share anonymously if they prefer."

If we had unlimited time and money, how would we fix this?

Rachel Beider, CEO of PRESS Modern Massage, says her team will occasionally get stuck on something because of limiting beliefs around time or financial constraints. To get them out of their own way, she asks, "If we had 100 people working on this and a million-dollar budget, how would we fix this?"

Beider notes that this question frees up some creative space to reverse engineer a solution.

"It gets us out of the box," Beider adds.

What would happen if we did the exact opposite?

Sometimes, it can be helpful to think of a problem from the other side of the coin. Jared Weitz, CEO of United Capital Source Inc., recommends leaders ask their team what would happen if they took the exact opposite approach to their current one.

"When an idea session comes up, everyone typically thinks in a very streamlined way," says Weitz. "When you ask yourself this question of doing things the opposite, you will quickly understand why an idea would work, or why it wouldn’t."

What would kill this company?

According to David Henzel, CEO of LTVPlus, "Kill the Company" is an exercise where employees imagine themselves as the company's biggest competitor. The team is invited to poke holes in the company and try to imagine ways the competition could take it down.

"This exercise is a great way to find out areas of the company that your team thinks could be improved and, at the same time, discover ideas that can spark innovation and bring your company more success," Henzel says.

How can we boost the creativity in this project?

Creativity is essential for successful innovation, says Stephanie Wells, founder of Formidable Forms. Leaders should make this a top priority in any brainstorming session.

"Ask your team how they think a project can gain creativity or move it up a notch," says Wells. "You might be surprised by some of the answers you receive."

What do you need from me?

Blair Thomas, co-founder of eMerchantBroker, says that one of the best questions you can ask your team to help them generate ideas and solutions is, what do they need from you, the leader, to solve the problem or to reach a goal?

"Asking this question will inspire your team and spark innovation," Thomas explains. "Give them the opportunity to explain how purchasing equipment or offering additional training would help them complete projects and achieve goals."

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Published on: Nov 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.