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While facilitating a strategy review meeting for a faith-based organization in 2019, my attention was drawn to a unique approach by the Executive Director, who kept asking questions to participants and hardly came up with any solid recommendations regarding strategic choices. Group work was the predominant approach during the workshop with participants regularly breaking into groups, discussing and documenting strategic issues, key performance indicators and relevant activities. Each group presented their conclusions and recommendations to a panel composed of all participants with the other groups providing feedback in order to improve the final product. The Executive Director was a participant in one of the groups and gladly received feedback from other groups which largely came in the form of concrete recommendations. He however kept discouraging participants from giving concrete recommendations that had the potential to appear as final answers.

During the workshop, I noticed that every group, while addressing the questions from the Executive Director as well as those raised by other participants who adopted his approach, always came up with improved recommendations on preferred strategic direction. I also noticed that the questions often pushed the participants into deep thought and critical thinking with heated discussions about the pros, cons and uniqueness of each suggestion being commonplace. Responding to the questions also seemed to improve participant morale with most of them exhibiting passion and exuberance when contributing during the group discussion, providing feedback to other groups or outlining the merits of their group’s perspective.

Upon conclusion of the workshop, I sat down with the Executive Director with a view to understanding the rationale for his approach. During our discussion, he pointed out the importance of motivating his team towards participation using questions while avoiding always giving answers and appearing as a know it all.  He actually told me that even when he believes that he has the right answer, he prefers phrasing it as a question. In his words, he had learnt that questions fostered engagement through improved participation. In addition, he had also realized that his questions had usually challenged his staff to gather more information and thereby aiding their learning and staff development.

During my subsequent engagements, I have adopted a similar approach and has observed how asking questions has the capacity to challenge traditional thinking patterns and lead to the discovery of unique solutions. The foregoing happens since questions open up conversations and create space for people to share their perspectives and experiences. Thought-provoking questions also lead individuals into reflecting on their beliefs, values, and actions.

I have also learnt asking questions respectfully demonstrates respect and trust in the abilities and knowledge of team members thereby fostering collaboration and strengthening relationships. The approach also promotes critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, as well as a positive and inclusive atmosphere. It also serves as an effective leadership and teaching approach, fostering growth and development in both individuals and groups.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  

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