Open-ended Questions to Help Your Team Move Forward

Sometimes, no matter how hard working your team is, they hit a wall on a project and just get stuck. When this happens, how do you get the juices flowing and encourage them to move forward? Regardless of how big the project is–whether it spans months or it’s a one-day assignment–your team will come across situations where they don’t know the answers or can’t see a way forward. As their leader, your job is to guide them through this troubling time. More important than solving their problems for them, help the team develop strategies for solving problems on their own and for overcoming their roadblocks.

I like to begin brainstorming sessions by going off in a creative direction, unrelated to the topic at hand. I find that, by doing creative exercises, team members’ minds can open and discover different perspectives. Don’t be afraid to go off topic a little because that can generate new ideas and solutions. It works by taking the pressure off of people and just allows them to let off creative steam. Go around a table and have each person do something creative on the spot (for instance, they can say one line of a story or come up with a product pitch). Have them say the first thing that comes into their minds. The less thought put into it, the better because instinctual responses target a different part of the brain. This will help them think outside of the box when they need to solve the real problems at hand.

Now that they’re warmed up, ask the team members these open-ended questions.

1.       Tell me about how the project is going? (You should already know how the project is going, but this will give you the current situation straight from their perspectives.)

2.       What advice would you give a colleague in this situation? (This question helps them remove themselves from the equation, so they can look at the problem from a more neutral standpoint.)

3.       If you had to come up with a solution right now, what would it be? (Similar to brainstorming, this forces them to come up with answers on the spot, targeting a different part of the brain which can spark additional solutions.)

4.       What does success look like on this project? (In other words: What are your goals with this project?)

5.       Are there any challenges holding you back from achieving those goals? (They need to assess where the challenges lie, or else they won’t be able to address them.)

6.       If you had unlimited resources, how would you use them on this project? (Again, this targets the creative side of the brain. Is the problem structural? Financial? Skillset? Or something else entirely? This will help you and the team understand what is needed to move forward.)

7.       What’s your greatest accomplishment on this project so far? (This reinforces the successes they’ve already made.)

8.       How have you resolved similar challenges on past projects? (This forces them to analyze past performances and make connections between previous and current work.)

9.       Where would you like to go from here? (This is important because the question reminds your team that they have the agency to succeed and move forward.)

Now that the juices have been flowing, have the team come together in small groups for a classic brainstorming session. Ask them to write up to 20 solutions down on a piece of paper, then have them fine tune those and present their best top five. This will allow them to talk over problems with each other and come up with the best solutions.

If you try all the above steps, your team will complete that project successfully, in no time.