Have you ever been in a meeting where a group was asked “What challenges do you face at (fill in the blank)?” The “blank” could be filled in by “leading others,” “leading yourself,” “changing your company’s culture,” and the list goes on. At the beginning of executive workshops conducted around the world, I often ask that kind of question to get a better sense of the problem-terrain people are traversing. Small groups spend 7-10 minutes defining the top 2-3 challenges they face. (You might even take a moment right now to do the same.) Then they present their list of top challenges to the rest of the participants. Funny thing is that most challenges are problems “out there,” not “in here.” What I mean is that problems are often framed as a “system issue,” a “top management issue,” a “supplier issue,” or a “direct report issue.” Rarely are they framed as an “I’m part of the problem” issue.
But when you push a group to take their top three challenge statements and translate them into concrete questions, it often refines their understanding of what the problem really is. Initially, groups think this simple request will be easy to do, but it usually takes longer than expected. The mere act of changing a statement-based challenge into a question-based goal puts a much sharper focus on the issue at hand. Here are a few examples to illustrate what this dynamic looks like (they come from a couple of teams that I recently worked with):
Fundamentally, I’ve discovered that turning a challenge statement into a challenge question consistently turns the finger of responsibility away from others and back to ourselves. Someone “out there” is no longer responsible for solving the problem. Instead, someone “in here,” me, is responsible for making change happen. Almost always when debriefing this goal-to-question exercise, several insights surface about how the mere act of translation ratchets up a sense of personal responsibility for identifying and implementing a solution to a problem.
Bottom line, one way to make 2013 better than 2012 is to take all those goals that you’ve just set and transform them into questions. You just might be surprised at the quizzical magic of aspirations turning into accomplishments.
>> This post orginally appeared in HBR.org
Leave a Comment