Let me begin with the word ‘inquire’. Inquire means explore, probe, investigate, examine, analyze, review or enquire. It is about seeking information about something or doing a formal investigation. The word ‘inquiry’ means exploration, probing, investigation, examination, analysis, review or enquiry. Inquiry or enquiry is one of the powerful means of coaching. Agile coaches and Scrum Masters can make a positive impact on their teams by understanding the power of inquiry.
Effective inquiry consists of powerful questions. We can learn the importance of asking questions or the power of inquiry from what Albert Einstein said – “If I had an hour to solve a problem, and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
In her book “The 7 Powers of Questions”, Dorothy Leeds says, “Questions 1) demand answers, 2) stimulate thinking, 3) put us in control, 4) get people to open up, 5) give us valuable info, 6) lead to quality listening, and 7) get people to persuade themselves.” Interesting! Isn’t it?
Having set this context with the delegates, I shared the agenda of my session. The agenda was this set of questions!
a) Why powerful questions?
b) What are powerful questions?
c) How do we go about asking powerful questions? and
d) How can we retain the takeaways, stay connected, and share our coaching experiences?
The delegates were curious and very attentive.
Why powerful questions? Powerful questions a) initiate reflective and productive conversations, b) surface assumptions, c) generate enthusiasm and energy, d) provide focus on attention and enquiry, and e) induce more questions.
Powerless questions do the opposite! They do not initiate reflective and productive conversations. They hide assumptions. They sap energy. They demotivate people!
All of us do have the ability to distinguish powerful questions from powerless questions. What do you think about the following questions? Which ones are powerful? Which ones are not so powerful?
a) Are we doing well in this iteration?
b) Which user story are you working on?
c) Did you do unit testing?
d) What does it mean to provide quality deliverables to our testers?
e) What risks exist that we have not thought of yet?
f) What is the possibility we see now?
The first two are obviously weak questions. You are the Scrum Master or Agile Coach. You know what is happening in the project. You attend daily stand-up meetings! In spite of all these, do you ask the first two questions? Do you stop there? Or do you attempt to continue your dialogue with powerful questions to make your questions accomplish what you want them to accomplish?
The third question is a close ended (Yes/No) question. All of us agree that the last three questions are high quality questions. They are powerful questions! These are the questions that make you think, participate and find answers.
How do we construct powerful questions? Part-2 of this blog post answers this question with several examples.