How many times have teams across your organization come together to work on a common project or goal only to find that meetings aren’t productive, communication problems are rampant, and no one can seem to agree on next steps? When it comes to overcoming these common cross-functional collaboration pitfalls, the key involves asking a lot of questions, and high-quality ones at that.
High-quality questions are crafted in a way to drive employee engagement, invite creativity, and encourage curiosity and insight. Striving for consistent, meaningful cross-functional meetings can really make a difference on one’s day-to-day work, long-term goals and, ultimately, the success of the project.
Here are four tips to help you develop high-quality questions to amplify your future cross-functional collaborations.
1. Maintain a curious mindset
Strive to frame questions in a way that seeks new information that you do not know or are not completely familiar with. Leading with curiosity may not feel natural because we do not normally see every interaction as a potential learning opportunity, and we often want to appear as subject-matter experts when working as a cross-functional team.
Challenge yourself to get a little uncomfortable and ask questions that will lead to new learnings. You may already have an idea of how a meeting or collaboration will go and you may know the ultimate result, but sparking curiosity with questions can open up possibilities beyond the meeting topic. Questions that lead with curiosity include:
- What are you holding back from doing?
- What might you do differently?
2. Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” When you ask open-ended questions, you avoid leading others down a path of expected answers. It gives your teammates the space and freedom to think creatively about the question and give the unique answers that only they could come up with. And getting different perspectives from your own is the exact point of bringing together cross-functional teams to begin with.
Instead of asking closed yes or no questions, try reframing to open up the possible answers:
- Closed question: Is this the most important feature?
- Open question: What do you think is the most important feature?
- Closed question: Did you notice this first?
- Open question: What did you notice first?
3. Keep an open mind
Following on the heels of open-ended questions is maintaining an open mind when you hear the answers. Avoid quick calls to judgment on a particular course of action or suggestion. If you have a preferred decision or process that you believe should be implemented, be aware that others may not agree. When discussing various differences in opinion, the phrasing of questions can enforce your personal bias.
For instance, if you begin questions with “why” (such as, “Why do you think that?” or “Why would you do that?”) you may unintentionally convey a judgmental tone, and your teammates may think you are not fully considering their idea. Try pivoting to broader questions and encouragements instead:
- Tell me about that.
- What are the benefits?
- How do we evaluate the motivations/drawbacks?
4. Be clear and concise
Being a quality question asker involves keeping your phrases short and to the point. Be clear about your question’s intention, and allow others to do the same. We’ve all been in a situation where one team member goes on a tangent leading to a lack of focus and a loss of time and creativity. It is natural to elaborate on points during a conversation—this is not to say that elaboration is always counterproductive. But the goal in cross-functional collaboration is to focus on spontaneity by listening and keeping your teammates’ perspectives top of mind.
Sharp, clear questions are less likely to need further clarification from the team. Concise phrasing seen in the following examples is less likely to result in an interruption:
- What is the most valuable thing you (your team) learned?
- What are you most proud of?
- What is the biggest challenge?
Why questions matter in cross-functional collaboration
Asking meaningful questions is an open invitation for team members to think deeper, voice their opinions, and get creative. Using a predetermined set of questions during meetings may seem efficient up front, but recognize that intentional, in-the-moment interactions may actually lead to more helpful answers and problem-solving. Best of all, asking yourself some of the questions you ask others can lead to ample opportunities for growth around your own thought process.
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Written by Deanna Sinclair
Twin mom, soccer fanatic, adventurer. Enjoys a lively game of ping-pong, reading historical biographies and creating new art.