Category Talking To Your People

7 Check Up Questions To Diagnose Your Team

It’s straightforward being on a sports team. You know what your position is. You know what is expected. You know who’s with you and who’s against you.

The rules are clear.

In organizations, things are more ambiguous. Often, you’re not entirely clear about your role, the expectations placed on you, the expectations of others, the rules, and what success looks like.

Let me offer a model to check the health of your team and make things clear.

Each section considers the people you serve and those you work with.


Often “teams” are a loose collection of people who happen to work on the same project and often appear more like a conglomerate and less like a single unit.

Simon Sinek would ask, ‘Why.’

In other words, what are we all working to achieve?

If there’s no shared vision, is this even a team?

Two questions you might wrestle with:

Who are we helping?

To successfully serve, you need to know who it is you serve. Savvy marketers create avatars of their ideal customers to make them real.

Who is your team serving?

What dent are we making?

If you get away from the inbox and your calendar for a moment, what is your team to achieve?

What will be different if your team is successful in all they do?

If that’s unclear or just a little bit “meh,” then perhaps there’s work to be done to get clear on the Why.

Read more about the importance of clear missions.


What’s the data?

Communication has two parts: the data (the facts) and the judgments (our opinions about the facts).

What’s interesting is just how easily we slip from one to the other or how quickly judgments come to resemble facts.

As you make decisions as a team, ask yourselves, “What do we know to be true?”

What do you want?

An essential element of leading teams is understanding wants and needs.

If you find yourself at odds with someone on your team, one of the most powerful things you can do is ask them what they want and share what you need.

First, it’s shocking how hard it can be to articulate what you want.

Second, it’s shocking how quickly that knowledge can clear away what’s superficial and focus the conversation on what matters.

Read about communicating


Who matters?

You can’t treat everyone as if they were equally important to the team’s goals and ambitions.

Within your stakeholders, who’s on the A-List? If you could have only five names, who would they be?

I bet that you’re probably underserving your ‘A-List.’ How could you give them the support and service that they deserve?

Who is on the B-List? You are probably over-serving these stakeholders.

How can you scale back here, so you can direct more time and effort to your A-List?


What’s the promise we’re making, and to whom?

Our very first question was, “Who are we helping?”

Now ask, “What’s the promise we’re making to them, and how are we doing delivering on that promise?”

Where are the soft spots?

Where do you need to lift your game?

How can I help?

Ironically one of the ways we break promises is that we over-deliver.

We think we know what’s wanted, so rather than check it out and get clear, we leap in and start doing stuff.

Before you rush in, slow down and clarify how they think you can help them. Ask, “What do you need from me?”


Final Thoughts

Here is your four-point health check for your team.

The questions may not always be easy to answer, but the answers are vital to your success.

Get clear on the questions, and you will raise your team’s impact, happiness and focus.

Theirs is but to do or die – Actions to Ensure Honesty When Speaking Truth To Power

Sadly, old-fashioned ideas like “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs is but to do or die” still exist.

‘Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die’: these lines have become famous, though they’re often misquoted from the 1854 poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92).

The actual lines come from the second stanza of the poem inspired by one of the greatest calamities in British military history: on October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War, the British Light Cavalry Brigade, comprising some 670 men, charged disastrously against some 25,000 Russian soldiers.

The stanza was not about quiet courage; it was about blind obedience.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.’

So as a leader, what can you do to make sure people can reply and speak truth to power in your team?

And how do you do it upwards?

How not to F Up conversations with your team

The Power/Truth Imbalance

The whole concept of speaking truth to power rests on an imbalance of power and information.

The leader has the power, but often the follower has the information.

Why isn’t transferring valuable, truthful information a simple thing?

It’s because a combination of weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are at play wherever those imbalances exist. What they are and how followers can do something about them is worth examining as a follower too.

Studying these imbalances helps you, as a leader, understand why people might not bring you their ideas.

Let’s look at an old-school SWOT analysis:


What must the leader do to ensure followers speak the truth to them?

They need to create conditions that minimize the followers’ weaknesses and threats.

      1. Do pass your experience on to your followers as to why you are making the decision.
      2. Do give Followers the context behind the decision.
      3. Do not punish those who offer him their logical opinions and well-reasoned judgments.

The third bullet (above) third is the most difficult for a leader. If you can’t make your followers comfortable challenging you, don’t expect to reap the benefits of their honest opinion.

Improve your conversations through silence.

What does the follower need to do?

First, this must be based on a bedrock of competence and professionalism. If you are a constant complainer, your moment of truth to power will be taken as another complaint.

But to be listened to, try to avoid threatening the leader.

      1. Explain how you see issues and facts in light of his grasp of the situation and detail.
      2. Do so in a way that doesn’t threaten his leader’s ego.
      3. Do not threaten the leader’s authority.
      4. Do not diminish the effort that the leader has made so far.

How might that look? Try to:

      1. The leader’s attention is grabbed in a way that doesn’t threaten his ego.
      2. Puts the problem up front as an observation based on the follower’s knowledge.
      3. Offers a solution rather than demands a change.
      4. Reduces the threat to the leader’s authority by giving them the power to decide.
      5. But finishes with a question, which creates a ‘closed loop communication.’ The leader has to respond.

Frame your difficult conversations with the power of Facts, Feelings & Future

Get attention, state the problem, offer a solution, and ask for agreement.

How does it work?

First comes the attention-getter. Recognize the Leader’s position by saying:

‘I know you have a tough job as our boss, and I am sure I couldn’t do better. But would you be open to hearing my thoughts on this project?’

Second, state the problem as you see it. Use a statement. 

“We plan to take the same action we’ve taken several times.”  

Third, offer a solution and use strong language:

“I know it seems like the safest option, and we’re under time pressure. We should take a few moments to repair the problem before we proceed.“

Finally, seek agreement. This is important because it focuses on the leader to reply. It closes the loop of communication:

 “Do you agree?”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say this technique will suddenly lead to your boss listening to you and agreeing with every point you make.

But it is backed by research in the airline and medical industries that show it increases the chances of leaders listening to followers. It’s also shown to improve the quality of outcomes as well.


Follower or leader: Improve your chances.

So, if you’re a leader, pass your experience on to your followers, give them the context and avoid punishing or otherwise damaging those who offer their logical opinions and well-reasoned judgements.

Teach your team to use the technique above and recognize it when it’s in action. When they use it, your team tries to tell you something you need to know.

Remember that complainers don’t get listened to when you are a follower.

Only competent professionals get to have their truth heard. Use the technique above to improve your chances of being listened to. Explain how you see issues and facts.

Do so in a way that doesn’t threaten your boss’s ego or authority.

Asking People To Have Solutions When They Bring You Their Problems Will Fail – And What To Do Instead

I’ve said it

You may have said it

You probably had it said to you.

It goes like this:

The boss proudly says: “I have an open-door policy!” and then they say, “feel free to bring your problems to me, but bring a solution with it.”

Sounds good?

We believe we are creating high employee engagement.

We think we are encouraging creative thinking.

We hope we are developing future leaders.


What is wrong with that?

What if our high-minded, forward-looking leadership ideas are shutting people down?

Read more about words that shut you down

Let’s pull his apart:

First, you announced an ‘open-door policy, BUT’ … ‘but’ tells the listener that you do not mean what you just said. It means there are conditions.

Then you say that you want people to bring you their problems; with the qualifications, they need to get solutions.

They wouldn’t need you to help figure it out if they had solutions.

You may very well have shut down all the people who are too afraid to bring problems to you because they don’t have a solution to recommend.

Having people come to your office is a demonstration of the power you have over them.

A better approach is to not hide behind your desk; narrow the power differential by going to them, to their workplace, so you can see what is going on.

Ask open-ended questions, like what is going on? Do you understand where your work fits into the company? Is there anything getting in the way of you meeting your objectives?

Read more about asking the right questions

What Does This Look Like?

I had an employee who made a series of small and seemingly insignificant requests whenever I stopped by his worksite.

With each request: I listened; took it under advisement.

And I either addressed his suggestion or responded as to why I couldn’t.

Read more about building trust

Over time we established a high level of confidence.

Eventually, he mentioned that a piece of equipment was being misused and offered a solution that saved over $50,000 in the first year.

He was a good employee and worked in another location than I did.

He’d seen bosses come and go and had no reason to trust that I would ever have fixed anything.

So, the odds of him walking into my office to share his ideas were slim to nil.

So, tell me something, how would my ‘bring me solutions, not problems’ speech work out?

27 Powerful Open-Ended Leadership Questions

The goal of a leader is to ensure that your team finds a solution to their problem.

To do that, they have to know what the problem is. You must know how to ask open-ended leadership questions to ensure successful conversations. Open-ended questions are essential for any leadership strategy because they allow you to understand your employee’s wishes and needs with subtlety.

What Is an Open-Ended Leadership Question?

An open-ended question is not one with a simple answer. When understanding an employee’s motivations and goals, you don’t want curt “yes” or “no” answers; you want them to deliberate and talk at length.

You want to know their point of view, and open-ended questions make that happen. The more the employee says in response to the first question, the more details you have to ask further questions.

The clearest example of an open-ended versus a closed-ended question is “Do you have any questions?” versus “What questions can I answer?”. The first could prompt a simple “no,” and then there is a lull in the conversation. The second, however, starts your listener to deliberate longer and ask several questions they may not have thought of.

Questions usually asked by leaders include fact-gathering questions, goal-oriented questions, and rapport-building questions. All of these are good and useful to the leadership process, but each needs to allow for an open-ended answer and tie in with the larger goals and needs of the employee.

Benefits of Open-Ended Question

Many things asking open-ended questions equips you with better leadership skills. For example:

  • It allows you to build trust and rapport with the employee, as it demonstrates your interest.
  • You can learn more about the employee wants and preferences and define needs, goals, challenges, and other data.
  • It places you as the expert in the discussion, presenting the value you bring to the table. 

Open-Ended Rapport-Building Questions

Rapport-building questions start the conversation, get your employee talking, and help you understand the person you’re working with. It can also make you both more comfortable with a more personal connection and allow you to begin gathering the necessary information.


    • Can you tell me about your priorities for this meeting?
    • What is your background?
    • How is business going?
    • Please tell me about your upcoming plans for the year.
    • What would you like to see improve?
    • What is your biggest challenge right now?
    • Could you list your concerns in this area?

 Open-Ended Qualifying Questions

These questions can help determine the interest level of your employee in how you’ve approached the conversation. It can also let you know how to proceed. Not every employee will buy what you’re selling, and it’s essential to figure out how much an employee is committed.


    • What is your timeline for this to be resolved?
    • What do you see as the next steps moving forward?
    • How do you decide this?
    • When should you assess these solutions?
    • How should we move forward after this?


Open-Ended Priority Questions

These questions help discover and address your employees’ roadblocks or concerns and further understand their priorities and needs. These questions should be carefully constructed not to steer the conversation toward something that can’t be fixed. Be sure to treat each employee individually, and don’t assume you know their priorities based only on similar customers.


  • What would you like to achieve in the upcoming year?
  • How is that problem changing how you operate?
  • What isn’t working in the current setup?
  • What improvements are you hoping to gain from this?
  • What would prevent you from making this change right now?

 Open-Ended Discovery Questions

A discovery question should be clarifying and probing, provoking thought and deliberation in your employee. The better you understand the employee’s wishes, the better you can tailor a solution to their needs.


    • What are your intentions for the future?
    • Can you elaborate on that?
    • What are your reservations?
    • What needs to be fixed with the current process?
    • What have I not covered that you’d like to hear more about?

 Open-Ended Goal-Based Questions

These help you discover the wishes and wants of your employee if you listen closely. When you know what’s holding them back from achieving their goals, you can better assist them with a solution. Focusing on the benefits of your product and how they attune to the purposes of the employee can also help close a deal.


    • Why do you think this solution isn’t working?
    • How is the problem affecting your work?
    • What do you want this meeting to achieve?
    • How should we assess the success of this?
    • What could we do to avoid similar problems?

 Responding to the Answers to Open-Ended Questions

Be sure to ask your questions without rushing into them or being pushy. Show your genuine interest. Your questions should, fundamentally, make your employee talk for as long as they want, and you must be sure to listen to them and provide helpful conversation. Be patient and don’t interrupt; everything you hear can benefit a sale.

Learning How to Ask the Right Questions

Increasing your experience with leadership discussions will allow you to keep a better ear out for helpful information.

When you know what to look for, you will find that subsequent conversations will go easier.

Be A Better Leader By Asking Better Questions – Get Your Own 51 Powerful Questions

Powerful questions & silence can put a halt to evasion and confusion.

Asking powerful questions invites clarity, action, and discovery.

Using the power of silence (Read more about the power of silence) to allow people to talk creates the possibility for learning & fresh perspective.

(Click here to download your copy of the 51 Questions!)

(Click here to download your copy of the 51 Questions!)

(Click here to download your copy of the 51 Questions!)

Making Lives Better By Building Better Leaders