Misguided Questions Kill Businesses

This is a guest post by Nathaniel Greene, author ofStop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers. —–

“Why? Why not?” These questions seem innocent—even helpful. But they’re quietly killing your business.

When someone hears “why” or “why not,” they are primed to justify the current situation.

Your team hears these questions when something has gone wrong. When they answer, they’re explaining why the problem isn’t their fault, or why they cannot reasonably change the situation. Teams can provide compelling reasons why something can’t be done. Those reasons will convince your business that a problem is unsolvable, and it will become an ongoing ulcer.

Justification is a waste of time when you’re solving problems. What you want to know is how to move forward and solve the problem.

You’re not solving the most important problems in your business because you’re asking the wrong questions.

Asking different questions radically alters how your business approaches problems. Next time something goes wrong in your business, skip asking your team “why,” and ask these questions instead:

  • “Can you describe the problem to me?” This is a very precise form of “what’s going on?” Help people objectively describe the observable problem without blame or assumptions.
  • “What have you learned about the problem?” This question primes your team to investigate the problem and learn the failure pattern, rather than guessing at what went wrong.
  • “What would it take to make it happen?” When a team member tells you something can’t be done, ask them to explain what they need to get there.

These questions shift your team from justifying the current state to seeking the best next steps to resolve the problem. Their behaviors will improve, and so will your results.

What questions get in the way of solving problems?

What questions help teams solve problems?

Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.