The Power of Obvious Questions

People pour into the auditorium, excited to hear the results of the engagement survey. Among the many insights, one key area of frustration for people is “Too many meetings”. Loud applause and chatter breaks out confirming just how much of a pain point it really is. A task force is quickly assembled, they engage hundreds of people across the globe, and design some great tools and training for meeting effectiveness. The solution is well received and people start adopting some of the ideas.

Fast forward 6 months. Nothing has really changed. People are just as frustrated as they were with meetings indiscriminately consuming their calendars and their lives!

What happened⁉️

This task force of talented people isn’t alone. It happens to the best of us.

The Heart of the Issue

As result oriented, high performing leaders, they got so hyper focused on the WHAT, they missed the WHY

Asking the WHY would’ve taken them to a very different place, and to a very different solution set.

🤔 WHY do we have so many meetings?

Because we need numerous approvals across levels and functions (sales, marketing, supply chain, quality, legal, R&D, finance etc), and we need consensus before we can proceed.

🤔 WHY do we need so many approvals?

Each function feels the need to have checks and balances because they feel other functions ’go rogue’.

🤔 WHY does each function feel like the others ‘go rogue’?

Because each function cares only about their own goals‼️ When there are conflicting priorities, they make trade offs at the cost of the other team’s goals. This impacts that team’s performance and consequently their careers.

🤔 WHY does each function prioritize only their goals, when the overall business strategy and goals should take precedence?

There are no clearly articulated common goals for the business. 

There is no collective accountability for the common goals that would move the business forward. The primary accountability is to the corporate functional leader (who sits outside the business unit) for some, and to the BU CEO for others. 

They work in silos. The structure and the culture impede collaboration.

🤔 WHY are the structure and the culture a barrier to collaboration, rather than enablers of it?

There is a lack of trust among the key leaders and their teams. There is unpleasant history, significant politics, an overactive grapevine and mysterious back channels where decisions are actually made.

Obviously, this is an oversimplification of a very complex story with millions of moving pieces. The key takeaway here is that asking these obvious questions unraveled insights on issues with the org design and structure, the dysfunctional behaviors in the culture, the lack of alignment, the lack of collective accountability, the lack of clarity and focus etc, rather than just meeting hygiene.

The Power of Obvious Questions 

We take a lot of things for granted at work. The sentiment is captured in the ubiquitous sayings ‘This is how it has always been’, ’This is the way things work around here’, ‘That won’t work, we’ve tried it before’, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, etc.

We tend to believe that there must be a reason why things are the way they are, even if we don’t know what it is…and even when nobody else knows what it is either‼️

Status quo is the stickiest corporate phenomenon there is.

Asking obvious questions, with the curiosity of a child, or asking why something needs to be this way, can unlock powerful insights.

The things we take for granted, the things that seem obvious, the things that seem like no-brainers are the exact ones where we need to challenge our paradigms and unlock deep meaningful insights.

Obvious questions expose these unsaid paradigms. These paradigms control our behavior and we don’t even know it. The more unquestioning we become, the more these behaviors get entrenched in our culture. We compromise a little every day till we forget where our line was. We get a little more illogical, and a little more directionless everyday, only to realize too late that we are in fact, adrift.

What I’ve learnt from using the Power of Obvious Questions 

My teams and colleagues over the years, I’m sure, are rolling their eyes (with love) as I say this! 😊

I ask a lot of obvious questions! And I especially love it when people answer me as though I am stupid or slow. Here’s why.

✅ It tells me just how much of a no brainer or unquestioned paradigm the issue has become. 

✅ It also gives me a glimpse of how difficult it is to change, and how difficult it will be for people to accept and adopt any changes. 

✅ It also tells me that as difficult as it may be to change… the bigger the aha, the bigger the impact‼️

Why don’t we ask more seemingly obvious questions?

We hesitate to ask obvious questions because we think it makes us look unintelligent, like we are struggling to understand basic concepts, and can’t comprehend simple ideas. It opens us to judgement from our colleagues. And nobody wants that❗️

We all want to be seen as smart‼️

We all know what it sounds like when someone is showcasing how ‘smart’ they are by asking a lengthy, lecture posing as a question❗️

We get so obsessed with looking smart, that we may forget to BE smart‼️ 😃

So join me, in asking seemingly obvious questions that unlock hidden opportunities and potential in your people and your business.

Every journey of change, whether it is to question status quo, or to challenge existing paradigms, starts with asking an obvious question.

The ability to pause and ask these obvious questions is another stepping stone, and a key capability, on the path to Mindful Leadership.

As a leader, we have to create the psychological safety for our people to ask obvious questions without fear of judgment.

Think of obvious questions as an exercise that will save your company’s life and your sanity.

Ask ask and away! Are you in?

If you enjoyed this article, pls share it with 1-2 friends you care about, who might benefit from it. 

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