Room for New Ideas

New ideas are exciting.  Ideas can inspire and re-engage people. Ideas can generate new opportunities and invigorate how work gets done.

The challenge is that new ideas take time, mental space and resources to develop and implement. Things that most of us don’t have a huge surplus of.

So, how do you create room for new ideas and the energy these bring?

Ideally organizations regularly evaluate, refine and sunset programs.  But, in my experience this doesn’t happen as often as it should.  So, how can you get started?

Explore with your team:

Q box stop doing final

Starting these discussions can be challenging. You may hear some perspectives that you don’t like or agree with.  But if you ask, you need to listen and allow people to share their viewpoint.

These discussions may not solve your problems now.  But, the dialogue will help you understand where people are coming from, learn about what really happens in your organization, and offer you opportunities to share insight about why or how you do stuff.

This awareness can inspire new ideas for revising how work gets done and what work is done to better leverage your resources.  And the process of exploring this together can build understanding of your goals, your purpose and how you can work together to advance both.

Go ahead and ask.  Your people may be reluctant at first, but as trust grows so will the discussion.


Join me and some really smart colleagues in exploring the questions associations should be asking.  We are highlighting questions your organization should consider and resources and tips to help you frame successful discussions.




Building Success: The Questions to Ask

Questions can open minds, inspire new ideas and expose new opportunities.  But, if questioning is new to your organization, your team may not be ready and willing to jump in and share their thoughts and ideas.

Good news is, you can build comfort and trust to encourage your team to engage in questioning. One of the questions (or in this case series of questions) associations should be asking, is a great tool to build comfort with questioning.

Q box 3 qs

In my experience, associations rarely pause and examine what we did and identify how we might do it better next time, and in associations there is always a next time!

Taking the time to reflect on your experience and the outcomes values the contributions your team made.  It also helps to foster a culture of learning and continuous improvement and opens the door to step away from ‘the way we have always done it.’

Try it. People may not jump in the first time you ask. But keep asking. Each discussion will build comfort with honest reflection and engagement.

Use a different question? Have a favorite question?  Please share it below to be featured in a future post.


Expanding Your View

You don’t know everything. It’s ok. None of us do. In fact, most issues we face today are simply too complex for one person to understand all of the nuances and opportunities.

But, we can be smarter. The simple act of engaging other people and inquiring about what they know, their perspective, their experiences, their ideas, all of this will help you and your organization to learn.

So much of association life is spent in a doing cycle – planning for and implementing board meetings and conferences, keeping up with publication schedules, facilitating member outreach, responding to volunteer questions, etc.- that sometimes we fail to pause and ask the questions that can make us better at the stuff we do. Learning behaviors like asking questions, seeking feedback, and thinking are how we and our organizations get smarter.

Conversations are a key way that organizations and many people think and learn. Engaging people in discussion around things like:

  • Why are we doing ___?
  • What did we learn?
  • How can we do this better next time?
  • What do members need, now? Next year?

Helps you to identify the changes, patterns, opportunities, challenges and needs that your organization can leverage to move forward and build your future successes.

Empower the smart ambitious people on your team and in your community to be part of your success. Ask questions. Encourage them to explore, share what they know, think or see. Invite them to be part of your learning and your next big or little idea.

“The [person] who asks a question is a fool for a minute. The [person] who does not ask is a fool for life.” ~ Confucius

Questions: The Leadership Power Tool

Volunteer wants, member needs, evolving markets, hectic schedules…there is never a shortage of stuff that keeps us from pausing and asking the questions we should be considering.

“The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right question.” ~Peter Drucker

Questions are one of the most powerful leadership tools. Questions can serve as a catalyst to help you engage people, focus their energy and efforts around the critical challenges you are facing. Questions can help you to move your organization forward by:

  • Engaging people in revising a project; “Why do we do ___ this way?”
  • Exploring your next opportunity; “How are our member or market needs evolving?”
  • Identifying the next big thing; “What developments are we seeing that will impact our organization or our members in the next three to five years?
  • Solving your challenges; “How might we____?”

Maybe you aren’t ready to step into ‘big’ question discussions. What about the fundamental ones:

  • Who’s the audience?
  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Why are we taking this on now?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the daily stuff or our urgency to jump in and do or fix a situation that we fail to ask even the basic questions. Remember the Five Ws you learned in school…who, what, when where and why? These are critical questions for work, helping people identify the information they need to successfully lead, manage or implement.

The simple act of questioning how, why or what can inspire people to think, explore and engage. These discussions can help you unlock challenges you’re facing, identify new opportunities, develop new understanding and inform smart decision making. Essentially make your organization stronger and more capable of generating new value for your members and community.

So, how do you get started?

Listen. It may sound trite, but check yourself on this. When colleagues or members are talking are you truly listening to what they are saying? Or maybe are you formulating your response, checking your phone, scanning the agenda to see how much longer the meeting might last?

Ask. After you’ve listened, ask a question to ensure your understand what your colleagues are saying. “How do we know ___?” “Why do we ___?” “What is the timeline?”

Enhancing the discussions taking place in your organization now will build comfort for exploring the big questions. Those questions that challenge you or your organization to look beyond what you’ve done, what you know and what people expect. The ones that require trust and a sense of safety for people to be willing to step up and share their ‘crazy’ or ‘half thought out’ idea, ask a ‘dumb’ question or be willing to admit that they just don’t know.

A few resources you might find helpful…

5 Strategy Questions Every Leader Should Make Time For, by Freek Vermeulen, Harvard Business Review Blog, September 3, 2015.

7 Things Great Listeners Do Differently by Travis Bradberry, Forbes/Leadership Online, February 29, 2016.

They can’t read your mind!

If you want people to support your efforts and help you move toward success they  need to know what you are trying to achieve.

Not how to do it. They can figure that out.

What are you trying to accomplish? Why are you trying to accomplish it? What challenges might you run in to?

Don’t assume they know or they get it. We are all busy with our own jobs and sometimes the big picture stuff can get lost or distorted along the way.

Inform them. Inspire them. Invite them to be part of the team that builds your next success.

Taking the time to engage your team, to help them understand what you are trying to accomplish and why it is important can help them get behind the effort.

If you still think they know what you want, ask. Then stop talking and listen.

  • Does your team know why your organization exists or why the project is critical?
  • Do they understand the strategic challenges you are facing this year or expect next year?
  • Do they know the project goals?
  • Do they know who the target market is and why?

Save yourself and your team the frustration and headache. Talk with them. Engage them in discussion about who your organization is – what’s your purpose, goals, challenges, opportunities. Help them to be part of your success.

“A question is the most powerful force in the world”*

The google app questions commercial is one of my favorite things lately. I love the simple way it highlights the power of question. “A question can start you on an adventure.”

I also appreciate how it showcases the types of questions well suited for a google search– where is…, how do you say… what is the going rate… questions that typically have one correct response.

Google has transformed how we explore – “I googled it.”  But, when it comes to the complex questions we deal with in our organizations there is rarely one correct response.

Most of the challenges we experience have several potential solutions, some we are aware of, some we aren’t. To learn about our options, investigate the potential and select the best opportunity for our organization we need to engage people.

Successfully engaging people requires good questioning and listening.  You need engaging questions that inspire, challenge and invite people to explore with you.

We all keep crazy schedules, so if you are going to ask people to work with you, make the best use of the time, their expertise and experience. Ask good questions.  Here are a few questions that can help you get started.

  • What do we need to achieve…?
  • How might we…?
  • Why do we need to take this on now?
  • What needs to be true in order for the idea to be successful?
  • What patterns are we stuck in?

Yes, there will be times when it seems that figuring it out yourself would be a whole lot easier.  But, do you really have all the knowledge and insights you need to successfully develop and implement the idea? If not, you will be better served by engaging colleagues, learning along the way and building a team that supports the effort.

“The right questions will empower everyone to think in new ways.” ~Krista Brookman, in How To Ask Better Questions, Fast Company

*google app questions commercial

Do Your Questions Invite People to Participate?

Engagement seems to be one of the hot topics in business lately. The reasons why it is important are everywhere, but how do you do it?  How do you help people participate? How do you help them become part of the effort?

A key step is asking questions that invite people to participate. Posing good questions can help you engage your team, develop shared perspectives and collective goals, inspire future possibilities and inform smart decision making.

Start with engaging questions.  Pose questions that ask and inspire people to explore their insights and share their perspectives. Engaging questions can foster energy by inviting people to participate, focusing on what is working and what can be achieved.

Here are a few questions to help you get started.

  • Why is this important to you?
  • What information, if you had it, could help develop the solution?
  • What is holding us back on this effort?
  • What have we accomplished so far that is supporting our success?

There’s a great HBR blog post today, Make it OK For Employees to Challenge Your Ideas, that highlights the value of asking questions and listening. If you are going to ask a question, be sure you are really ready to listen.

Have a favorite question, please share it.  Building a question bank is key to becoming a strong questioner.

You can’t tell them to care

“Processes and structures don’t create coordinated action, people do.”*

Systems fail.  We can’t prevent all potential breakdowns, there are simply too many variables – information is wrong, deliveries are late, email is down, someone is out sick, the list goes on.

Your colleagues can make the difference. People typically see that a process is beginning to falter before a  system failure occurs.

To notice, to care and to take action people need to feel that they are part of the whole. People need to feel valued. They need to see how their role fits into the organization’s success. They need to feel that they can make a difference.

You can’t mandate that people care.

People are employed to fulfill a set of job duties. You can expect these (within reason). But you can’t tell them to care or to be engaged.

Ownership and buy in are cultivated. You can engage your colleagues to foster the awareness, mindset and skills that empower and inspire them to care, to take responsibility and to be part of the team.

Awareness: Do your colleagues know the organizational vision and goals that influence their work?  Do they appreciate the value their work generates? Can they connect how the work they are doing supports the organization and provides value to your members?

Motivation: Do your colleagues feel that they are part of a team striving to achieve a common goal?  Have they had the opportunity to participate in conversations about the goals and how the efforts can be designed or executed to support the goals? Do they see how their and the organization’s contributions impact your members?

Skills and Knowledge: Do your colleagues have the skills and knowledge they need to fully engage in their work? Do they have access to the resources they need to learn and do their job?

When the terrain and the map differ, the terrain wins.  How do you ensure that your team can see the variance coming and take appropriate actions?

*Inside Out, Tracy Huston, page 48

Building Communication

We know that communication is critical to successfully engaging people. If colleagues don’t know what you are trying to do how can they possibly join you?

Do you ever stop and consider how you communicate? When drafting a message do you focus solely on how you articulate your message or do you consider how others hear your story?

Do you consider if your language translates to their experience, interests or needs? Do you help the audience understand your point by using examples, interests and passions that are relevant to them?

If you want people to match your enthusiasm or give you their best effort they need to understand the idea and create meaning for themselves.

Communication goes beyond sharing your information. After you craft a compelling and relevant message the really hard part comes, listening.

Sometimes we are so excited about an idea it is difficult to listen, to be questioned or doubted. But this is how ideas, work and relationships get stronger. The back and forth of sharing and listening are how you build trust and ultimately create work, spaces and organizations that people want to be a part of.

Next time you share an idea, try one of these questions to help people participate in the conversation.

  • What’s right with this idea?
  • What concerns you about the idea?
  • How could we improve on this idea?

What’s your message?

innov poster2

Have you been here? The poster is clever. But the reality is that many organizations have a culture that sends these messages.

I’ve seen it.  Some organizations prefer the status quo, others get so caught up in the cycle of association work they “don’t have the time to think” others are afraid of what change might bring. These organizations tend to encourage “dreaming small” rewarding work and people that come in under budget, on time and without causing any disruption or unsettled feelings. Some of these organizations even talk of supporting innovation. But, when the work starts, questioning is discouraged, disagreeing is taken as a personal affront, and new ideas are met with a chorus of excuses…“we’ve tried that,” “you don’t understand how our organization works,” “we’ve always done it this way.”

Organizational culture sets the tone for how engagement and new ideas are responded to.

With the increased competition for people’s attention, time and money why would you discourage any of your team from being engaged, thinking or striving to help your organization be stronger?  Three things to consider today:

Do you foster a safe environment for your team? Does your team feel comfortable expressing relevant thoughts and feelings without fear of being penalized or ridiculed?

 Do you nurture a culture of inquiry where people feel it is accepted to question, dissent, probe or challenge ideas, practices and opportunities?

Does your team treat each other with respect?  This doesn’t mean they don’t question, it means that they treat each other respectfully when they do.

*The poster is part of a “Save the Inventor” campaign posted at the Union Station Metro Station, Washington DC, January 20, 2015