How to turn challenges into answerable questions

Edited excerpt from Transform 2013 by Turning Goals into Questions by Hal Gregersen:

Have you ever been in a meeting where a group was asked “What challenges do you face?” Funny thing is that most challenges are problems “out there,” not “in here.” Problems are often framed as a “system issue,” a “top management issue,” a “supplier issue,” or a “direct report issue.” Rarely are they framed as an “I’m part of the problem” issue.

But when you push a group to take their top three challenge statements and translate them into concrete questions, it often refines their understanding of what the problem really is. Here are a few examples to illustrate what this dynamic looks like:

Challenge statement >> Question goal
1. New ideas never move forward >> How can we translate new ideas into tangible results more successfully?
2. Overwhelmed with too many urgent things to do >> How can we find time to think much further in advance?
3. Employees aren’t engaged >> What is causing employees to emotionally check out from their work?

Turning a challenge statement into a challenge question consistently turns the finger of responsibility away from others and back to ourselves.

(1) Perhaps a good way to transition from challenge statements to question goals is to use 5 Whys.
(2) Asking great questions is a skill, and often doesn’t come naturally. I try to step back from making assertions, to articulating the question which the assertion was supposed to answer. Someone else may come up with a better solution to the problem you’re trying to solve, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.
(3) Must read: The two greatest indicators of what we view as important.

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