4 types of questions: from opening a discussion to the action plan

Sometimes you have to tell your team what to do. It could be an emergency, a policy, a regulatory requirement. No need for discussion. Just tell them what needs to be done and why.

More often, there’s opportunity for discussion, engagement, agreement.

When you have this opportunity, there are 4 types of questions that will take you from the opening to the action plan.

Use them in discussions with your team when you want to build engagement and commitment to the actions.

1. Big, neutral questions

These types of questions are great for opening a discussion once you’ve introduced the topic. They’re big, expansive questions that don’t lead your team in a specific direction. They encourage everyone to raise the topics that they see as important, which is a great way to open a discussion.

For example:

  • What are your thoughts on this?
  • What are the key points in this situation?
  • What is your perspective in this?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges we’re facing?

Learn to listen too, it’s not just about asking the questions!

2. Follow-up questions

These questions ensure that the topic is explored in sufficient depth. They stay ‘on topic’ and encourage a deeper discussion. Use these questions as you identify critical issues.

For example:

  • Why do you say that?
  • Could you explain in a little more detail…?
  • Can you give me an example of that?
  • Is that good / bad? Why? 

To take your questioning skills to another level, here are more questioning techniques.

3. Questions that involve everyone

These questions ensure that everyone on your team can contribute (not just the extroverts!). You can reinforce this by making eye contact with your quieter team members as you ask the questions. You may even want to pick out some people by name.

For example:

  • What do other people think?
  • Can anyone add to that?
  • Does anyone have a different perspective?
  • John, what are your thoughts on this? 

And if you get asked a question, here’s how to answer questions.

4. Questions that drive to action

These types of questions get you from discussion to action and next steps. Use them once you’ve explored a topic in sufficient depth and you want to move your team towards a conclusion.

For example:

  • What do you propose we do?
  • What are the goals we should set ourselves?
  • What’s our action plan?
  • What are the immediate next steps? 

You can then move into creating FAST goals.

Additional tips and hints to encourage participation

Here are my additional tips and hints to encourage participation:

  • Ask a question and, if necessary, be comfortable with the silence. If there is no response, restate the question (using slightly different language). Give your team the time to think and respond, don’t answer your own questions.
  • If a team member says something that you know to be wrong, do politely explain their mistake, for example: “I think you’ll find that the policy actually says….”. (Don’t say, “You’re wrong because…”).
  • Remember to thank your team members for their comments (not all the time, but often).

To wrap up

Collaborative discussion is a great way to engage your team and build commitment to action. For even greater engagement, consider running this as a workshop.

When you have an appropriate opportunity, use these 4 types of questions to structure the discussion:

  1. Big, neutral questions
  2. Follow up questions
  3. Questions that involve everyone
  4. Questions that drive to action 

They’ll take you successfully from opening the discussion to the action plan!

Colin Bates

Colin Bates

I'm at my best when helping people to learn, grow and succeed. This might be facilitating a training program, coaching a colleague, or sharing advice with my kids. I'm also an introvert by nature, and love to read, reflect and write. Hence this blog!