Why are questions so powerful? Because the beginnings of change are in the questions we ask, and the best thing we can ask is often “What is the question I should be asking?”
As project managers, questions are a big part of the job. We have to complete endless templates, forms and dashboards – much of the time answering questions that have no real value for what we’re trying to accomplish! We also spend a lot of time asking questions – gathering business requirements, managing the project team, understanding customer/user issues, interviewing prospective employees, etc. To make sure our questions are better than the nonsense we’re so often subjected to, we have to ask the right questions in the right way at the right time.
Making Questions Work by Dorothy Strachan is a book I highly recommend on this topic – in particular for structuring any kind of interview or group event. The book covers questions for opening sessions, enabling action, thinking critically, addressing issues and more.
For a deeper understanding, try an alternative approach like discussing a koan (a Zen paradoxical riddle or story used to aid in meditation and spiritual awakening). Using stories of any kind (koans, myths, fairy tales) can provoke new questions, inspire out-of-the-box answers and allow us to see situations in alternative ways. Here’s one of my favorite koans (from Zen Koans, AshidaKim.com) called Muddy Road:
Tanzen and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around the bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on girl”, said Tanzen at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud. Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzen, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?” “I left the girl there,” said Tanzen. “Are you still carrying her?”
Are you still carrying anything from previous project work? From life outside of work?
How does it feel?
What questions should you be asking?