Your once-well-oiled machine of a team is experiencing strife. Some people seem to be spending more time whining than doing their jobs. A high-priority project is behind schedule and over budget. What questions do you ask to understand what’s really going on?

You’re first instinct may be to ask, “What isn’t working?” If you’re really at the end of your rope, you won’t be that polite.”What in the HECK is WRONG with you people?!” As frustrated as you may be, don’t focus on the negative right away. This will put people on the defensive and may deteriorate into a blame game. You will end up wasting time and will probably miss some incredible strengths that could be put to use to solve the current problem.

Begin with this question: “What’s working and why?” Here’s where you uncover the brilliance – and regain a balanced perspective. It isn’t all broken, and some things are going great.

Then, ask: “What is the need we are trying to address?” This will get people zeroing in on their purpose and goals. Be very clear about exactly what you’re trying to achieve, why it’s important and the desired results and impact.

Next, ask: “What do we need to start doing to get there?” You’ll find that there are some best practices that were never shared or have fallen by they wayside. Build on what’s working to address the gap between the need and current performance.

Only then should you delve into “What’s not working?” Figure out the behaviors that need to stop in order to remove barriers to success. Often the previous questions will have addressed some of the gaps with an eye to constructive resolution, so this conversation may be very brief.

When there is a problem, focusing first on the negative keeps you trapped in the past and may encourage you to throw in the towel too early. While it’s important to learn from what went wrong, the real power for change lies in what is going well. It takes courage and talent to overcome adversity. You’ll uncover more of both when you uncover strengths you didn’t know existed.


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