Ask Your Direct Reports These Questions

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Questions are an important tool for managers. They result in better motivation, better work results and conflict-free collaboration.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own,” said Henry Ford. He understood that questions are a powerful leadership tool—perhaps even the most powerful.

Check how many questions you ask your team members on a daily basis. Do you have the impression that there is still room for improvement? Then pick two or three questions and use them, preferably every day.

You will quickly see a change because questions convey appreciation. Anyone who asks signals that “Your opinion and experience are important to me.” Secondly, when you ask, you learn. Your team members’ answers can help you identify new opportunities for your company and the employee’s potential.

Questions for People Development

Motivated team members perform better. That’s probably what every leader wants. According to Fredmund Malik, a Swiss Management expert, you should “design the tasks in your company in such a way that there is the best possible match between the respective strengths of your team members and what they have to do.” 

You probably don’t even know many of the strengths and competencies of your team members. Perhaps the rather shy office clerk leads the meetings of the hunting club in the evening, full of verve. Targeted questions also help identify the hidden strengths of your team members.

  • Where do tasks come naturally to you?
  • In which activities do you forget the time?
  • Which tasks give you strength and energy?
  • What are you looking forward to this week?
  • What hobby excites you?
  • When do you go home or to lunch in a bad mood?

Questions About the Work Environment

It’s often the little things that frustrate team members in their day-to-day work: the telephone system not working properly, the unsuccessful search for the right contact person when questions arise, the noise level in the office. 

Many of these problems can be solved easily, but bosses often don’t even know what’s wrong. These questions can change that:

  • What do you need to work well?
  • What materials and working conditions do you need to do your job well and correctly?
  • How can I support you?

Questions About Conflicts

Especially in conflict discussions, managers tend to talk too much and listen too little. However, a conversation with team members is not a battle to fight and win with meticulous preparation. Would you give in if your counterpart talked at you without a dot or comma and insisted on his opinion? No, you would probably become defiant, angry or shut down internally. Use the following questions to help you understand what caused a conflict.

  • What annoys you about the situation?
  • How did it come about?
  • What could the solution be, and what do you need to implement it?

Especially in conflict conversations, use open-ended questions—those that begin with question words like what, when or how. Open-ended questions lead to clear, detailed answers. 

However, avoid questions that begin with why and wherefore. These usually lead to people feeling pressured to justify themselves.

I have designed an on-demand course for having difficult conversations at work: conflict resolutions if you have a deeper interest in this topic.

Questions About Business Development

The perspective of team members can be precious to entrepreneurs. After all, they know the customers, the offerings and the processes in the company intimately. They often have good ideas about how to move the company forward, too. If you want to tap into this knowledge, you can ask the following questions:

  • What would you change in the company?
  • What can we improve?

And Now: Listen!

Every question raises an expectation: namely, that the questioner is genuinely interested in the answer. Listening is half, if not most, of the path to success as a leader. In my article on active listening, you will learn which recipes good listeners rely on.

However, if the team member has the impression that the manager is already thinking about something else while they are answering the question, its effect is lost. Worse still, such behavior can cause lasting damage to trust and respect.

Perfectly Prepared for Performance Reviews

With the checklist “Perfectly prepared for appraisal interviews,” you as a manager can go into the interview with your team members with a good feeling—and know exactly what you want to say.

Foto istock

About the coach​

Kai Boyd has been a leader, trainer and facilitator since 1989. He supports leaders and their teams to work together effectively, trustfully and with ease. This involves each and everyone – in their respective roles and as people. Tailor-made formats and genuine attention enable potential to unfold and synergies to emerge.

The graduate industrial engineer, managing director and former management consultant knows the requirements of his clients from many perspectives. He works systemically, strength- and solution-oriented. Leading international teams as well as work and academic programs in the USA and the UK enable him to always contribute the international perspective.

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