The Questions We Ask

Photo by LEOL30

Photo by LEOL30

Back when I was a project manager, I asked the question, “Are you done yet?” on a frequent basis.  A person being done with his work meant the next action could happen—either the next person could do her work, or I could do my part and communicate something to a client.  Managing a project meant seeing the entire Rube Goldberg process of getting work done: knowing what was in progress, what would happen next, and making sure the steps happened like they should.

Recently a developer told me that in his experience with Scrum, he has been asked this same question by Scrum Masters.  I’m sure those Scrum Masters had good intentions, and I wish they’d asked a different question

Becoming a Scrum Master is not easy.  It means becoming a different kind of leader.  And as difficult as it is to make the transition to being a Scrum Master, it is also difficult for others to see us in that new role.  That is why the questions we ask matter so much.  If we use the same language as we did before Scrum, the transition will be harder.  I wonder what the Scrum Masters wanted to know when they asked, “Are you done yet?”  I hope it was, “How can I help you?”

What other questions might a Scrum Master ask?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Practicing Powerful Questions--and a Giveaway!

Card design by Kevin Baker, Improving Enterprises

Card design by Kevin Baker, Improving Enterprises

A few weeks ago, I took my first Co-Active Coaching training class, and it was incredible.  It was 2.5 days of being immersed in coaching—watching it, receiving it, and practicing it.  I’m amazed at how much I learned because it was so unlike other classes I’ve taken—I didn’t feel like I was studying, but I was absorbing knowledge throughout.   One of the fundamental skills we talked about and practiced was asking powerful questions, which is also one of the skills in my Beyond Removing Impediments: Scrum Master as Team Coach presentation.

What’s a powerful question?  It’s the type of open-ended question that makes you think.  It’s not a yes/no question, and it doesn’t ask you to explain why.  These are the questions that push your thinking beyond where you’ve been and create possibility.  They inspire and motivate and move you closer to what you desire.

I’ve been practicing powerful questions more frequently, and it gets easier each time.  The questions are relatively simple and can fit in your pocket.  Literally.  I have a mini cards of powerful questions that I gave to attendees at Keep Austin Agile 2014, and rather than tell someone what to do or ask a closed question, I can reach for a card and ask a powerful question instead.

For readers of my blog, I'm offering a special giveaway of powerful questions cards!  If you would like some mini cards to practice your coaching skills, please contact me with your name and mailing address.      

 

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Using Powerful Questions

Photo by Daa Nell

Photo by Daa Nell

Powerful questions really can be powerful: they open up your mind to possibilities you previously didn't think of, and they can help you find the direction you have been searching for. I've been teaching some folks about powerful questions recently and practicing them more in my own life.

The first couple of times I used powerful questions in a conversation, I was very self-aware.  I was trying to listen intently to the other person while thinking of the next powerful question to ask.  It felt awkward and unnatural to me since it was new.  And I remember one conversation in particular where I felt like I was asking questions only to have the other person go in circles.  Was he going to find the next step he needed to take??  I felt like I had blindfolded him and asked him to pin the tail on a donkey.

Thankfully he didn't feel that way.  At all.  In fact, he thanked me for my coaching because it gave him the insight he needed--I just didn't see it in our conversation.

Practicing powerful questions, like any new practice, can feel clumsy and awkward, but the effects are real.  Keep going with it.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.