Asking powerful questions

Diana Larsen responded to a question about using questions in a retrospective:

Questions should lead the group through the group thinking framework of the retrospective. For example, for a continuous improvement goal:

setting the stage: “In a word or two, how are each of you doing today?”, then outline goal and review working agreements;

gathering data: Look for facts/events, “As you think back over this iteration, what events or instances stand out? What did you see and hear that sticks in your memory?” and when the group has answered those questions, move on to looking for responses to the facts/events, “How did your energy flow over the course of the iteration? When was it high or satisfying? When were the low points?”;

generate insights: “Now that we have a full picture of what happened and how we responded, what would you recommend we keep doing the same, do more of, do less of, start doing, or stop doing altogether?” and “What are the implications of each if we do?” “Looking at our keep, more, less, start, stop lists, which actions would have the greatest impact on our work or our teamwork?” ;

decide what to do: “Considering the impact of each of the items on our list, which of them do we have the most passion/energy to take as an action or experiment during the next iteration?” “What one or two will we select to include in our iteration planning meeting?” (A recent conversation with Esther brings the last two questions to mind. We actually talk about this stuff in our spare time too. )

close the retrospective: “Who owns each action item?” “How will we know when it’s complete?” “What can we do to continue to improve our retrospectives? What should we keep doing, what should we try differently next time?”

When I want to reflect on a very short period of work–a meeting, a pairing session, a workshop day–I use questions for the entire retrospetive, which may last only a few minutes. Those few minutes can make a big difference in increasing effectiveness, improving results, and maintaining working relationships.

For more on using questions to help people think and learn together, check out The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace (ICA Series)