A simple method for eliciting powerful contributions

“By shifting our preparation to clarify the purpose of every agenda item discussions radically improve”
Diana Jones

How many meetings have you been in where despite the latent around the table, the discussions have been all over the place, littered with red herrings, point-scoring, and off-topic? How on earth does this happen?

Funnily enough, few of us have been taught how to participate in groups. Most of us think achieving the task is the most important reason that we are together in the first place.  But there is more. The reason we are together is for us to bring our best contributions to the table. Despite our content knowledge and expertise, most people need help to do this.

Too often I find people are well prepared on their content, but not on how to bring the best out of the people around the table. We spend thousands on recruitment, then fail to tap into their talents.

By shifting our preparation to clarify the purpose of every agenda item, and the outcome you want from others’ contributions, rather than emphasizing the nuances of specialist content, discussions radically improve.

Observing a leadership team debriefing from a recent board meeting, I was struck by their lacklustre conversation. They had been innovative, trusting several of their staff to take the lead in board discussions. This had gone well beyond their wildest expectations. They recounted stories of moments, and things that weren’t so good. The conversation was typical and lacked vitality despite their pride in their staff.

I paused the group. What would be a question you could ask one another that would both draw out your learnings from this board meeting in a way that taps into your expertise and your staff’s contributions? This is called the exquisite question.

The group worked in pairs. Within minutes each of the four pairs had a question. Most were workable.  One was a standout. Their exquisite question to one another was, “What do we want to communicate to our direct reports to show we appreciate their impressive development?”

The subsequent contributions from each executive generated a list of ten insights and observations for their direct reports. The executives also noted four actions they themselves could take to improve their game for future board meetings.

If you ask boring questions like ‘let’s hear your feedback’, or ‘how do you think/feel about this’ you’ll get boring responses.

If you ask questions that tap into the vision, experience, and expertise of group members, they light up.

Shaping the exquisite question, related to the outcome you want, produces vitality. Participants feel valued and know their contribution has meaning.

You can up your game by considering the purpose of any discussion, and the outcome you want, then preparing your exquisite question. This takes 2 – 3 minutes.

Forget memorizing endless content. Focus your preparation on tapping into your colleagues’ and staff’s expertise. You’ll likely find the ensuring conversations deeply satisfying.

© Diana Jones

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