Engage Your Team with Questions, Not Answers

This article was originally published on Echelon Front’s Platoon Hut website.

For the last year I’ve been leading a weekly planning meeting of key staff who work to produce concerts at the Nashville Symphony.  Each concert or event has many details requiring coordination from several departments, and so the weekly meeting is valuable time together. Ever since I started leading the meeting, I struggled to find ways to engage staff more in discussion. I tried modifying the agenda, preparing more thoroughly and keeping myself informed of what was happening on the frontlines as much as possible so I could drive conversation.  Nothing I did was getting the full results I wanted from the group, which was to empower more effective discussion and maximize our valuable time together.

Recently, I was away at a week long conference, and missed a week’s worth of concerts.  I came to the weekly meeting feeling a bit concerned how disconnected I was from the office but curious how the concerts went.  Instead of me reporting out and driving the conversation like I always did, I asked lots of questions of the group: how did they feel it went? What worked? What should we remember for next time?   I didn’t have any of the answers and relied on them to fill in the blanks.

After the meeting was over, I was impressed with how the group really stepped up and engaged more fully in the conversation.  They offered up insightful feedback and the meeting was very helpful. What made the difference? And then it hit me – perhaps they didn’t speak up as much in the past because they didn’t need to – I did all the talking.  By being so concerned with staying connected to the details, I probably stifled the conversation because I thought I needed to have all the answers. Instead, I took a chance, let go and got out of the way. I used curiosity and inquiry to find out from them what really happened.  It worked, and I realized my team was ready to take ownership, I just needed give them the room to do so.