June 2018 IT BP Forum - Change Your Questioning Language

Key Observations - Discovering Business Outcomes

Gilbert Scott Associates, James O'Driscoll

Discovering Business Outcomes

Change Your Questioning Language 

Mike Burrows (https://www.linkedin.com/in/asplake/) the founder of Agendashift (https://www.agendashift.com/), a champion and enabler of outcome-oriented change kindly kicked off the afternoon masterclass track.  The purpose of his session was to introduce and then workshop a needs based, outcome oriented approach to organisational change, rather than the norm where you start with a solution(s) and then deal with the inevitable resistance.
Obviously such a huge topic cannot be covered in 50 minutes, so Mike focused on the delegates use of questioning language by first asking them to write down some examples of obstacles they feel stop everyone (so individuals, teams, organisations etc.) being able to work consistently at their best.  A key outcome of this was the majority of the delegates look for obstacles with “absence”, “lack” or “insufficiency” language, so there was no X, there was a lack of Y or there was too little Z.
However, if the delegates want to operate in a needs based, outcome oriented approach they shouldn’t try diagnose or fix the obstacle but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead.  To help the delegates understand this further Mike asked the groups of four to take it into turns to be a coach (guide of the conversation), client (person with an obstacle taken from the previous exercise), scribe and observer.
Using a cue card the coach then guided the conversation with the client, trying to ensure they resisted the temptation to respond too much and ensure they incorporated the client’s words into their questions.   Suggested questions included:
  1. And when <obstacle>, what would you like to happen?  
  2. What is happening when <outcome>?
  3. Is there anything else about <outcome>?
A key outcome of the session from an observer point of view was that whilst there was initially some reluctance to ask questions in outcome orientated approach, as the session progressed you could see the majority of the delegates were becoming more comfortable with such a style of questioning.  Our hope from the session is that the delegates can recall this exercise in their working day with the key message being not to look for obstacles in your questioning language, but ‘flip’ them into outcomes instead. 
For further details the cue card and deck are available here - 15-minute FOTO and includes a video of Mike facilitating a discovery session at the Adventures with Agile meetup. For more on our use of Clean Language, see the first couple of chapters of his Agendashift book, the #cleanlanguage channel in the Agendashift Slack, and this reading list.
If you would like to have access to the information presented in the Forum, please contact us.

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