Newsletter No 4. October 2007

In this issue we respond to a request to do some thinking about questions. Not just how to ask them and what is an open or closed question, but something more fundamental. How can we make questions useful for our organisations? How can we make questions useful for the people we ask them of? How can we ask questions that put the responder in a position of power; a position from which they discover the energy to change?

We've also included an example to share from a reader (Jill Lang of People Potential) of what worked for her when working with a virtual team.

In this issue:

The LASA Team

Latest thinking

How to ask really useful questions

These days most of us have 'opportunities' in our work to influence people. That is, in many of our positions we don't have direct authority, so we can't order things to happen, we need to advocate, convince, persuade and generally, influence others. This can be quite tough! But there is one incredibly powerful tool that we all have, that we frequently don't use or don't use as effectively as we could. That is the question. Not a simple question, but a considered question that looks at enabling forward movement – un-stuck-ness. Could you ask someone a question that would put them in a position of power? Read further to find out how!

Think about questions. They are part of communications, but they are also part of our thinking. The questions we ask come from our own individual perception of the world in which we live.  New and different questions can help us to change our perspective. The questions we ask drive the results we see. They direct our attention. Are you asking questions that focus your - and others' - attention on the right place? Do you know the right place? And how would you know if it were the right place to focus? What would you see and feel?

The power of questions is that they can lead us to failure or success. The language we use helps to create our reality. It is important to be aware of this because it can often get in the way if used without thought. Here is a simple, straightforward example:

I worked for a manufacturing company that assembled computer boards with tiny components on them. There were assembly lines with machine and hand placement stations on them. I was asked to do an organisational audit of the manufacturing facility. At that time, we also knew that morale was very low and there were quality problems with the product.

I started by asking, "What actually happened?" I wanted facts, not opinions or judgements. I was told that operators were damaging Work-In-Progress. So, I asked, "Which operators where causing the damage? Which lines?" I asked questions that would help me to understand exactly what was happening, rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions (as the managers had). I wanted to learn what was happening (not why, which leads to judgements and blame), what was responsible for what we were seeing.

This helped us to identify the two lines where the problems were occurring. We could then focus on further questions: What did these two lines have in common? A new automatic placement machine which – we ultimately discovered - had been improperly calibrated. Just think about what would have happened if we had continued down the line of judgement – asking the wrong question. The cost to the company would have been high indeed.

Marilee G. Adams has written a book called, "Change Your Questions, Change Your Life" (see review below) – it is one of our favourite books. How can you get the best answers without asking the best questions? In this book she has a lovely map called The Choice Map. Based on our questions we can choose to go down the judger path (blame) or we can choose to go down the learner path (taking responsibility). Judger questions close down options and look for someone or something to blame. They keep us in victim mode. Learner questions do the opposite – they open things up and help us to focus on possibilities.

Another example: There came a time when my team and I and many others in our function were going to be made redundant ('laid off' in the USA). I had read Dr. Adams' book, so I bought a copy for each member of my team to read and help them through this time. I also coached many of my colleagues. I remember one in particular who kept asking, "What did I do wrong?" (ever been there?). She kept repeating the question. I asked her what a more useful question might be. She stopped cold and looked at me in astonishment, whatever did I mean? We worked on questions that were useful in these circumstances and choose the Learner path. Eventually she came up with "What possibilities are there for me here and outside the organisation?" and "What would I like to do next?" She felt great relief – she was no longer stuck and could move forward. She landed a great job in a different organisation in a very short time (before her notice period was up). This didn't mean that the situation was easy for her or for any of us. But if we could ask different questions we could stop being stuck.

So, here is a list of some of our favourite questions as food for thought.

  • When you’re stuck, a great question is what Nancy Kline calls an Incisive Question: What if you knew you could? What would be the first thing you did? (From Time to Think by Nancy Kline, see review below)
  • Other questions for when you are stuck (especially when dealing with others), What assumptions are you making? How else can I think about this situation? What is the other person thinking, feeling, needing, wanting? ( From Change Your Questions, Change Your Life)
  • What Solutions Focus practitioners call the Miracle Question: If you woke up tomorrow and your problem had disappeared overnight, only you didn’t know it, how would you know that it was gone? What would people be doing differently? What would you be doing differently? And most importantly in this line of questioning, What Else?
  • A follow on from the Miracle Question is what is called 'Scaling': If what you have described is perfect, where are you now on a scale of 1 to 10? What would it take to move you up one step?
  • Questions on peak performance are very interesting – ask someone about a time when they saw peak performance in a particular area (either for themselves or with someone else) and get them to tell you a story about it. Explore with great curiosity and a beginner's mind (that means, no assumptions). You can then help people to build upon existing strengths.
  • What is working?
  • How could I get to win/win?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What are my choices?
  • What am I responsible for?
  • What else is possible?
  • When we are working in organisations, a particularly useful question is : Who is the client for Change?
  • What is changing? What will be different because of the change? Who's going to loose what? (Bridges - see link below)
  • Who is going to gain what?

There is an entire field of strength-based, positive methods for change which is based on the idea that the questions we ask are key to developing (and co-creating) a new future.  If you are interested to find out more, contact us at tricia@lasa-insight.com  or visit our website for links and books related to Appreciative Inquiry and Solutions Focus.

You can add to this list of questions and see what you come up with – it is great having a list of useful questions in your hip pocket.

What Works for Virtual Meetings

By Jill Lang

This feedback came from the International Finance Team of a global organisation on their experience of ‘virtual’ monthly meetings over a two-year period.  It is what helped their 'virtual' meetings to be more effective.

  1. State the time of day at each location for all to see on the meeting agenda – so all can appreciate those who are attending in ‘unsocial hours’
  2. Know how many people are at the meeting at each location, and where they are to attend it - recognise the difference in motivation:-
    • for a group of 6 in a video con. suite in London at 4 pm on a summer afternoon
    • a lone individual in an office in Melbourne at 1 am on a winter night
    • an individual on the phone at home at 5 am in New York or 3 am in San Francisco
  3. Share the pain of the unsocial hours by sharing the time of calls around the time zones / seasons – planned ahead for regular meetings
  4. Ask at the start of the meeting for a brief report to understand the quality of the equipment each is experiencing – recognise how this affects the quality of their input:-
    • A clear screen with good sound
    • A grainy grey / flickering screen with intermittent sound
    • Telephone line only – clear / poor
  5. Recognise the value of effective Chairing for virtual meetings – without being officious – to assist participation by all on the tele/con. - video./con
    • To enable a few minutes social warm up to begin the meeting, ensure all know who is taking part, introduce new participants and substitutes for usual members
    • To keep to the shared agenda
    • To invite everyone to say briefly what is happening for them at the moment, work wise / personally
    • To ask everyone to state their name when speaking and ask questions/comments of named individuals
    • To avoid development of group discussions between people in the same room – particularly if a local issue for discussion on another occasion
  6. Appreciate the value of having regular (minimum twice a year) face to face meetings of all the ‘virtual’ team to improve the ‘virtual’ meeting discussions / conversations
    • To get to know each other as individuals
    • To generate cross cultural understanding
    • To build rapport, friendship, share humour and empathy
    • To develop confidence in sharing information and understanding the situation in each region/division/ office represented

By Jill Lang.  Email: jlang@peoplepotentialp.co.uk

Latest Books

Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 7 powerful tools for life and work

By Marilee G. Adams, PhD

ISBN 1-57675-241-0

This book really did help to change my life and it helped me to coach many of my clients to change theirs. It is simple and quick to read and hard to put down. We have a choice: do we want to go down the path of judgement and blame or do we want to go down the path of the learner? We can choose - otherwise we will end up in the Judger pit, living the life of a victim. In that pit, we react, look for someone to blame and look at our relationships with others as win/lose (in other words lose-lose). The learner looks at things differently and is pro-active in his or her choices. The learner sees that he or she has choice. The learner takes his or her responsibility.

Marilee Adams is a psychotherapist who has moved into coaching based on her work (including her PhD) around how questions can help us.

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind

by Nancy Kline

Published by Ward Lock 1999. ISBN 0-7063-7745-1

A simple and easy process for making room to think. Nancy Kline helps you to create a Thinking Environment that allows human beings to think for themselves. The most important and interesting part for us has been learning to form and use 'Incisive Questions' to remove limiting assumptions. To create a Thinking Environment, Kline gives us ten steps:

  1. Attention – listening with respect, interest and fascination
  2. Incisive Questions – removing the assumptions that limit ideas
  3. Equality – treating each other as thinking peers
  4. Appreciation – practising the five to one ration of appreciation to criticism
  5. Ease – offering freedom from rush or urgency
  6. Encouragement – moving beyond competition
  7. Feelings – allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  8. Information – providing a full and accurate picture of reality
  9. Place – creating a physical environment that lets people know they matter
  10. Diversity – adding quality because of the differences between us.

IT Corner

Web Applications

A lot of the development work we do at LASA Data Solutions is to create web applications. But what is a web application? At its simplest, it is an application the runs on a server and uses the net and a browser to interface with the user. But displaying pictures on a PC requires a PC application program which would mean that a simple web page would be an application. However, it isn't really an application.

The term ‘application', when applied to the web, goes further than a simple web page. There should be a real application on the server, not just one that delivers basic text files which is what simple web pages are. Typically it will take input from the user and store it for later use by either the same user or to share that data with others. These days there are lots of examples of web applications in common use. A good example, to compare with the standard office tools we all use, is Google Docs. Google Docs is a suite of word processor, spreadsheet and soon presentation creation applications. Most corporations these days have web applications for expenses processing and HR related functions that allow you to submit claims and changes from anywhere in the world.

These days software technology has become more stable and it is not browser specific (which means that any browser can use it) and this allows for the development of advanced tools for the creation of applications that can  mimic what you can do on the desktop. Things like cut and paste, drag and drop are now all possible to do in a web application.

So when you need a computer application, rather than first thinking of using a PC programme, think of using a web application. They really can be as easy to use and are easier (and thus cheaper) to develop.

Interesting Links

Comma on Burdock Photo – A Comma on Burdock 2006 �PMLustig

Latest News from LASA

  • Tricia started tutoring on her first Henley Facilitation Certificate course in September.
  • Nic began a new project to create a computer aided education (or e-learning) web application which will help the client to distribute course material, follow up on project work and collect finished project work from participants as well as providing an ability to analyse the use of the package by participants over the course period.
  • Through Henley, Tricia was asked to help facilitate the Windsor Debates, run at Windsor by the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce.
  • Tricia is part of the CIPD OD Faculty. The faculty are responsible for making sure that the courses provided by CIPD in the OD area are up to date and leading edge.

Henley Certificate in Facilitation

Facilitation is fast becoming a key organisational capability. Many organisations recognise that skilled facilitators can help groups of people work together more effectively and deliver high quality results – saving time and money.

The Henley Certificate in Facilitation has been designed to meet the needs of those who seek to enhance their skills and professional credibility by gaining a recognised and respected qualification in facilitation from a leading business school.

Participant Profile

The Certificate will be of interest to two distinct groups:

  1. Managers and leaders working in an organisational context, who wish to develop their facilitation skills as part of their role, typically those leading and managing organisational change programmes and projects
  2. Individuals who take the specific role of group facilitator and are responsible for facilitating groups either as part of an internal consultancy department or as external consultants working with organisations

Content

The programme is based around one 2-day residential module, four 1-day workshops and a 1-day assessment centre, scheduled over an elapsed period of approximately 6 months. In addition to the face-to-face modules, participants will be supported by an e-tutor and resources provided in an e-learning environment.

Further information can be found at tinyurl.com/3y5mfj

2008 Programme Dates


Cohort Dates
3 17-18 January, 25 Feb,
31 March, 25 April,
23 May, 23 June
4 17-18 March, 11 April, 12 May, 11 June, 7 July, 4 August
5 2-3 September, 29 Sept, 27 Oct, 5 Dec, 16 Jan 2009, 9 Feb

Contact Executive Development

Enquiries Tel:  +44 (0) 1491 418767
Fax:  +44 (0) 1491 418899
Email: exec@henleymc.ac.uk

Quotes

"An open mind has a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought into it. "
- Anon

"A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes."
- Mahatma Gandi

"A wise man changes his mind, a fool never."
- Spanish proverb

"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind."
- Samuel Johnson

"I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem in as much as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practise to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right."
- Henry Bessemer

"Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. "
- Thomas Dewar

"Sit down before facts like a child and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing."
- Thomas Huxley

"Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, for they are always there."
- Norman Vincent Peale

Joke corner

A group of kindergartners were trying very hard to become accustomed to the first grade.

The biggest hurdle they faced was that the teacher insisted on NO baby talk!

"You need to use 'Big People' words," she was always reminding them.

She asked Chris what he had done over the weekend. "I went to visit my Nana."

"No, you went to visit your GRANDMOTHER. Use Big People' words!"

She then asked Mitchell what he had done. "I took a ride on a choo choo."

She said "No, you took a ride on a TRAIN. You must remember to use "Big People' words."

She then asked little Alec what he had done. "I read a book," he replied.

"That's WONDERFUL!" the teacher said. "What book did you read?"

Alec thought  hard about it, then puffed out his chest with great pride, and said, "Winnie the SHIT."

LASA Website

If this interests you, there are other interesting resources on the LASA Insight website so why not take a look by going to www.lasa-insight.com

Comments and Feedback

If you have any comments or feedback on - or suggestions for - this newsletter then please email them to us  here

@Patricia Lustig 2008