Seven of Our Favorite Helpful Questions

Businesswoman with question mark

A leader’s role is to develop their people to solve problems. Asking open-ended, helpful questions will help draw out deeper thinking and strengthen the problem-solving muscles. Many times, the best helpful questions begin with ‘what’ and ‘how,’ rather than ‘who’ and ‘why.’ For a question to truly be helpful it must be delivered in a humble way.

Here is a list of some of our favorite helpful questions:

How do you know this is a problem?

This is a great question to keep in mind because often people tend to get caught up in something that may not really be a problem. Maybe they have a solution that is shopping for a problem, or perhaps they are reacting to a single data point. Whatever the case, this question can help encourage thinking around defining the problem.

What do you need to know? And how will you find out?

This is a classic question that our faculty member, Margie Hagene, always discusses in her A3 thinking classes. Asking this question can help a person consider any gaps in their information. Thinking through these gaps can broaden your prospective of a problem. Thinking specifically about ways to obtain information will also help identify stakeholders and processes that could contribute to the problem or the countermeasures.

What makes this important?

Asking this question can help to identify the connection to true north or in prioritizing this problem over other work. Improvement and problem-solving are good, but it is important to ensure that improvements are impacting what is important to the organization.

What do you expect will happen?

When it comes time to determine countermeasures this question can be extremely valuable. Thinking through the anticipated result of an experiment is helpful in choosing what to try first. This thinking will also provide focus to how the impact of a countermeasure will be measured.

Who are the stakeholders?

We like this question because it promotes thinking systemically. It helps think through who may be impacted by the problem or the countermeasures. It also helps people find ways to look at the problem from different perspectives.

What elements are outside your control?

You have heard the saying, “You can’t boil the ocean,” that is what this question can remind the problem-solver. Sometimes a problem can seem so big and overwhelming, asking this question can provide some clarity on where to start.

What evidence do you have?

You can’t solve a problem based on a hunch, there needs to be evidence. The evidence should be obtained through data and going to the gemba. This question can help the problem-solver think through what data is available and where they can observe for themselves to ensure that they have the evidence they need to accurately capture the current state.

Of course, this list is not all inclusive, you can find lists of helpful questions and coaching questions everywhere. We like these seven questions because they are applicable in many scenarios. They can be helpful for those new to problem-solving in this format, or to those seasoned in the practice of A3 thinking. The next time you are coaching through the problem-solving process remember to ask humble, open-ended questions. If you are feeling stumped, try using ones that start with ‘what’ or ‘how.’

Please share with use your favorite helpful questions in the comments section below.


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2 Responses to Seven of Our Favorite Helpful Questions

John Gallagher says: 10/19/2020 at 6:20 am

One of my favorites is to ‘finish’ with “How can I help?” – It doesn’t indicate that I will DO the work, but, at a minimum give the one on the end of the question the chance to ask. Too often, people are afraid to ask for help. As you say in the article, there are MANY questions that can be added to the list, but this is one I try to use 100% of the time. Thanks for sharing.


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