Conversation Starters

Questions are critical to stimulate thinking, inspire learning, foster engagement and build innovation.  Posing a question and allowing people to share their story is a great way to engage people, build understanding, and avoid the dreaded ice breaker.

Good questions empower people to take discussion and discovery to the next level. Finding good questions can be a challenge.  So, over the years I jotted down the good ones I came across.  Here are a few I’ve collected, I hope you find one or two that support your efforts.

If you have a favorite question, resource, or idea on how to use questions, please share it in the comment section below.

What gets in the way of doing your job flawlessly?

Do you want to know what frustrates your team or keeps them from being wildly successful?  Then ask, “what gets in the way of doing your job flawlessly?” Chances are extremely high they will have a thing or two to share, and you may be surprised by what you hear.  If you ask around and find a pattern, it might be time to make a change.

What do we need to take more seriously?

It’s challenging to be aware of everything that is/or might impact your organization. So, engage your team in helping you identify the things you should be aware of. If you sit back and wait for people to speak up on their own, it may be too late. Be proactive, start the dialogue.

What fires do you constantly put out?

Where are people spending their time and energy? Is it on putting out the same old fires or are they investing in the stuff you want to move forward…the new program, identifying new opportunities, collaborating with colleagues and volunteers? If there is a constant fire, maybe it’s time to investigate and see what is causing the challenge.

How can the physical space you meet in shape people’s experience?

If you are making the effort to create a meaningful experience, don’t forget that physical space impacts experience. Consider…does seating encourage engagement, does seating imply seniority or leadership roles, is there a back of the room that people can “hide” out in, how is the lighting and sound?  If you are encouraging exploration and new thinking, are you meeting in a business-as-usual space?

What experience in your life defined you as an adult?

If you are building a team that needs to work together, support each other and  appreciate diverse perspectives represented you might consider posing this questions for small group discussion. The discussion can help colleagues to see each other as people and to understand where colleagues are coming from.

What would it take to get there?

Sometimes a project or goal can feel overwhelming. One of the easiest ways to get around this is to start breaking the challenge into doable pieces. What is the information, plans and you need to start, to facilitate and to complete the project?  Help people see their way through the challenge.

How have you/your organization changed in the last three years?

Exploring what has changed, and then by extension what has not changed can help to identify opportunity, challenge or concern with where an individual or organization is heading.

How have you become better?

Periodically we all could use a reminder to stop and evaluate what we’ve accomplished. It can help to build confidence in our effort or evaluate what is left to do to achieve our goals or even motivate us to take on something new or big. Consider asking yourself or your team.

What makes a good teacher?

I admit I am not a fan of ice breakers. However, I am a fan of initiating discussions to help people get engage before you launch into a meeting, workshop or session.  I like this discussion question because it gets people thinking about what it takes to teach and learn as you start your time together.

Why do you do what you are doing?

When was the last time you really took a look at the activities, processes and systems you and your team use? Are you holding on to ways of doing things that are no longer necessary or relevant? Sometimes we get stuck in the cycle and forget to question why.

“Which suffers more breakdowns – our products, our process or our people? Why?” ~Lisa Bodell, Kill the Company

Experiences with all three of these components – products, process and people – impact member/customer experience.  Do you know how your customers and your team would respond to these questions?  The responses might surprise you.

What is shaping your view of the future?

What are you reading? Who are you connecting with?  Which organizations are you watching?  Who are you listening to? Technology provides us the opportunity to learn anything, from anyone. But in our over scheduled, multitasked, too busy world it is easy to limit our listening to a small group of people, perspectives and resources. What are you allowing to shape your view today?

Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

Do you know?  What settings, mix of people, challenges or special circumstances help to unlock the amazing potential among your team? What was your last great idea? Who was involved? How did the idea emerge?  Would recreating the scenario help to ignite creativity again?

What is worth doing even if I/we fail?

Wouldn’t it be great if we started decision making discussions with a question like this? Not what should we do, what can we do, but what is worth doing?  Today is the first day of spring, why not try a new idea?

What has to be true for this to be a good idea?

I love the subtle way this question helps you to surface and explore the assumptions a team is building an idea/product around. (We all have assumptions, but simply asking “what assumptions are we building on?” isn’t always a fruitful discussion.)

What’s right with this____(project, idea, opportunity, situation)?

Inspired by sitting in jury duty today…it is all to easy to tear apart ideas, opportunities or situations. The more challenging and productive action is to build up an idea. Next time you are approached with an idea, start with building it up and see where it leads.

Who else should work on this (project/effort/exploration/challenge)?

In Creativity Inc. Ed Catmul wrote “any hard problem should have many good minds simultaneously trying to solve it.” (Creativity Inc. p 26)  Yes. All too often we assign one person or take on the hard challenges ourselves.  Why not engage a small group? Why not leverage your resources to take on your big challenges?

What will success look like?

Not what does the product look like. What does success look like…engaged staff, excited partners, members who want to be involved. What value will be generated by taking on the challenge in front of you? If you don’t articulate what you want to achieve, any idea can look like a good solution.

What’s the worst thing that can happen?

An easy question to pose when exploring new projects (or encouraging yourself to try something new). Sometimes people’s fear of the “worst” is far beyond the reality. Opening a discussion with a few light hearted answers can warm people up and build comfort with discussing their real concerns.

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