Art of Preparing Meaningful Questions
A few years ago I took a facilitation skills workshop with ICA Canada where I learned a skill called “The Focused Conversation Method”. One aspect I really found enlightening was how to prepare questions and lead conversations to get participation and to access the richness and the wisdom of the group.
Although you may not be an expert facilitator, you can use these tips to develop your own skills and prepare to chair such a meeting. With the number of meetings that take place today, organizations need processes that involve everyone and help people focus on solutions. To do otherwise invites chaos.
So, here is a process to help you prepare questions to provide that focus and guide your next problem-solving meeting. In a focused conversation, there are four levels of questions and an order in which to ask them:
1. The objective level: these are questions relating to facts. For example, “What do you see? What tasks have been delegated? How many elements are included in this presentation?”
2. The reflective level: these are questions calling for personal internal reactions to the facts, sometimes feelings. For example, “Which elements strike you as important?” “How do you feel about elements A and B?”
3. The interpretive level: these are questions drawing out meaning, values and implications. For example, “How much time do you think it will take to deal with these elements?” “What will be the implication on the workload”?
4. The decision level: these are questions to find resolution, bring the conversation to a close, and allow the team to move forward. For example “How will we rearrange the schedule?” “Who will lead the project?”
The Art of Focused Conversation is not only the title of a great book, but a fantastic tool to use in problem-solving meetings or in building consensus. Starting with level 1, you ask the more objective questions: what is the data? In level 2, you call for personal reactions to the data, or associations; in level 3, you encourage the group to go deeper – to gather insights and learning; and finally in level 4, you look for the “so what” responses to draw out implications, decisions and next steps.
Let’s use an example: you are the leader of a small team and you have the responsibility to prepare the agenda for a consultation meeting. Using the four levels of questions, let’s see how you could tap into the group wisdom and make consensus.
The objective level questions
- What agenda items did we receive so far?
- What other items have we heard of?
- How many people were at the last consultation?
The reflective level
- Which items seem easy to deal with?
- Which seem difficult?
The interpretive level
- Which of these items are most critical to deal with at this meeting?
- Which can be addressed in sub-groups?
- Which can be addressed in a future consultation?
- How much time will we need to deal with each item?
The decision level
- Who will chair the meeting?
- How can we best allocate the tasks to make sure we get things done on time?
- When will we meet again to look at progress?
If you work through these levels of questions, you will have a more interesting agenda and you will have come to a conclusion more efficiently. Remember that in a conversation, there are no right or wrong answers, only conversation. By bringing the group together in this way, you have access to everyone’s insights. Try it by preparing some more focused questions next time you have a decision to make and let me know how it went.