When employees do not understand the types of questions they should be asking one another, project outcomes lack the much-needed breadth, depth, insight and innovation required to create enduring business outcomes.

April 25, 2016

5 Min Read
Effective Questions An Essential Skill when Building Workforce Teams
Tomorrow’s workforce is structured around the power of your teams to ask effective questions.

By Babette Ten Haken 1

One essential skill is pivotal when building tomorrow’s workforce. That workforce is multi-generational, cross-functional and collaborative, regardless of the size of your organization.

Tomorrow’s workforce is structured around the power of your teams to ask effective questions.

This one essential skill re-calibrates the capability of technical, engineering and manufacturing teams to engage productively, profitably and creatively with non-technical teams within the workplace.

This one essential skill captures the business value your teams create so customer success stories become understandable, powerful and compelling.

Take your corporate culture’s pulse. How engaged and collaborative is your current multigenerational workforce? When your current and future workforce develops this one essential skill, everyone becomes smarter, more collaborative and more valuable.

Asking Effective Questions is an essential skill for tomorrow’s team-based organizational re-design.

When workplace culture is built upon a strategy of asking effective questions, employees (including leadership and management) remain continuously engaged in:

  • defining the context of solutions; and

  • establishing clarity of purpose for each initiative they engage in.

Ultimately, your organization’s teams develop greater cross-functional competencies and confidence in themselves and in each other.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 study reported that 92% of executives surveyed rated organizational re-design as their top priority. These executives stressed the importance of building strong organizational models featuring a “network of teams” as their structural underpinning.

This new organizational model is flexible, organic and agile. Teams grow hybridized competencies as they assemble and reassemble based on project requirements. However – and this is a big however – only 14% of the executives polled felt that their organizations were currently capable of redesign. Only 21% felt expert in building cross-functional teams.

Why not engage each other in a unifying organizational common denominator? First steps for designing the new workforce structure and function? Leverage the one essential skill of asking effective questions.

Asking Effective Questions already resides in niche populations within your organization.

Here are two effective questions to chew on:

  1. Why don't you and your employees think cross-functionally enough?

  2. How might the questions you and your employees ask each other become increasingly cross-functional and collaborative?

When employees do not understand the types of questions they should be asking one another, project outcomes lack the much-needed breadth, depth, insight and innovation required to create enduring business outcomes. When employees are too intimidated to collaborate with technical and engineering colleagues, your company remains stuck inside departmental silos.

You have several options. You can outsource ad hoc, compartmentalized training for the one essential skill of asking effective questions. Or you can in-source and collaborate on creating those all-important, grass roots first steps. Tap into the people and departments where effective questioning already resides: those intimidating, often misunderstood, technical and engineering employees.

Let's take those first steps together, shall we? Start by doing a Google search on “effective questioning strategies.” That is where many of your employees go for information. The search yields a plethora of recipes. That’s the problem.

Google search and Wikipedia become all-too-frequent, go-to information resources for non-technical employees. Instead of seeking deep knowledge from original source data, these references offer readers professional short cuts, tips and quick fixes. Their idea of “research” is composed of “how to” information and summary information and infographics. This information is used as the basis of truth for sales discovery, business information, interviewing and even for recruiting.

This strategy falls short when scrutinized by technical decision makers.

Where your employees currently go to seek information, and how they use this information, create a communication disconnect in your organization. It is the age of digital disruption of the workplace. Leveraging cross-functional interpretation of big data and analytics insights becomes a powerful and competitive tool. However, when non-technical teams do not actively engage in asking effective questions when collaborating with technical teams, your company remains at a disadvantage.

Contrast this approach with how your technical and engineering employees think, research, validate, design, hypothesize and create. Like me, they come from a scientific background. They are skeptical, curious, data-driven question-askers. I cut my own professional chops as a scientist turned new product development facilitator and team leader. When I was hired to conduct technical and scientific qualitative market research, I became adept at asking effective cross-functional questions on increasingly complex issues. My audience was, and remains, very smart medical, engineering and IT professionals. I became equally adept at switching gears – but not dumbing down my level of engagement – when asking questions of their patients, colleagues and customers. I remain focused on asking effective questions.

Think what happens when your workforce culture adeptly and continuously traverses the sales-engineering interface each day when creating client solutions.

Asking effective questions becomes the one essential skill which ultimately imprints itself on everyone’s professional DNA.

Asking Effective Questions is an impactful engagement strategy for the workplace.

It’s a matter of where employees go to obtain information to answer questions and sharing information. It’s a matter of how they were taught to think when solving problems and creating solutions. It’s a matter of how employees, managers, leaders and customers communicate with one another in terms of word choices, semantics and over-use of professional jargon. It’s a matter of how employees react and respond to the answers they receive when utilizing their one essential skill for asking effective questions.

When your workforce concentrates on developing this new essential skill set, everyone is unified in their learning efforts. They develop a greater sense of context, clarity and confidence when working with each other on teams.

Focus your hiring practices and corporate culture on developing one seemingly simple, often-assumed essential skill set. Focus on asking effective questions of recruits. Focus on engaging employees in learning to ask effective questions. These questions are key to deconstructing barriers to multigenerational, cross-functional collaboration.

You cannot move your organizational structure forward until you understand what is holding it back from forward progress. Start by asking each other more effective questions, for starters.

This article first appeared on the Sales Aerobics for Engineers® Blog and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

Babette N. Ten Haken is a strategist, coach, analyst, author and blogger. Her focus: the interrelationship between teams, leadership and culture in technology and manufacturing. Her Workshops and Professional Coaching Tune-Ups focus you and your teams on context, clarity and confidence in the execution of strategy. Babette’s Playbook of collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.

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