Focus: Understanding & Developing the Right Question

In front of the room, a large sheet of paper hung on the wall with four topics listed. A discussion carried on for several minutes as the team narrowed the list to one. The discussion beginning to focus on this one item, all team members seemed to agree, this truly was the most important factor of focus for the coming year. For ten minutes the team began to unwrap the potential of this point of focus.

Just then a gentleman seated at one end of the table, silent until this moment, interrupts with a question. This gentleman is a professional coach. His job is to listen and guide conversations, leading teams to the right decisions.

In the team’s conversation, the coach had heard something that raised a question in his mind. Knowing the team’s objective for the discussion and their business values caused his interruption. The question he asked immediately caught the attention of every person in the room. It was obvious the question invigorated the higher-level thought processes of each team member. Instantly, with excitement, ideas, thoughts, and analysis began popping out from around the table. Later, the team admitted, “If you (the coach) had not stopped us and asked that one question, we would have been chasing the wrong focus this entire retreat. And we would have led the organization in the wrong direction all year long.”

Every coaching situation requires a focus question. It is not the first question, but will be required to move the conversation toward a desired decision – the right decision. The key is to learn to develop the right focus question. Many can ask questions. However, to develop and ask the right focus question, oftentimes takes a keen, trained ear and mind, a coach with experience.

Are there pointers you can learn to use in developing good focus questions? Certainly!

A focus question is one that narrows a point of discussion with a clearly defined effort for attention. Any individual or organization can assess multiple focus questions. To develop the best focus question, one must listen to and know the intent of the discussion, and listen to what is not being said, as well as what is. If the focus is on symptoms and not resolve, it is not likely that effective, sustainable results can be achieved (see last week’s post).

Many organizations, having lost a large portion of its customer base, focus on getting the customer base back. The issue here is, loss of customer base, is a symptom. The right approach would be to unearth and address the cause.

Example: Symptom focus; “How can we get our customer base back?”

Cause focus; “If we as an organization could focus on only one thing, this next year, to improve our image, what is that one thing?”

This question focuses on the cause – within the organization – not the symptom (loss of customers). Once this one thing is identified through objective discussion, a series of questions can guide the discussion to the right decisions. Questions as; “What would this one thing look like in our organization?” “Who do we need to assist us in developing the implementation process?” “How do we implement the first steps?”

Asking the right focus question creates the transformation from a “in the box” possibility to an out of the box, fruitful experience.

Find out more in Coaching: A Way of Leadership, A Way of Life and Reaching the Summit. Or contact George Yates directly.