Archive for May, 2009

The Power of Questions

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’m looking for ways to make my coaching more effective. One important thing is to get people to find their solutions, rather than impose my views. Francesco once warned me that the coach does not ask questions in a Socratic way, for the purpose to get them to reach the solution that the coach has in mind. At the time I thought that would be rather difficult to do. Now I see that the Socratic dialogue smacks of manipulation and rethoric.

Not so long ago I asked a question that sounded like “do you think your choice was the best thing to do, or the easiest thing to do?” What a loaded question. It’s clear that my poor team member had no other choice than to agree that he chose the easy (and worse) thing. This is not the way I wanted the conversation to go. The question was not a very useful one; it was in fact a more embarassing way of chiding someone.

Not all questions need to be so false and rethoric. Last Monday we had a retrospective, and I asked questions like

  • I’d like to know how many pomodori we spent last iteration. And I would like to tell how many we spent on coding, and how many on non-coding (i.e., overhead) activities. How can we make it so that we can answer these questions?

Now this is a lot of questions. There are questions that I, as the person formally responsible for the team’s output, think I should be able to answer (the ones about the effort spent.) These questions explain the reasons why there should be a tracking activity at all.

Then there is the question to the team. How do we get to the point we can answer these questions? I’m not telling them “I propose we use this tool”. I’m asking for input. In fact, I’m asking them to tune their process so that it’s easy to answer this question. And I’m explaining why I’m asking them to spend effort on this. (In fact the information is *almost* all there; we just have to tune the process one little bit.)

As I was pondering how much you can achieve by just asking the right questions, I came across this beautiful little book, The Art Of Powerful Questions, which expands on the theme of honest, non-manipulative, insight-generating, mind-expanding questions. They are a precious tool for a coach, but indeed for anybody who wants to have constructive meetings and discussions.