10 questions every CEO should ask their team
When it’s decision time, great CEOs ask questions which cut through the situation and make everyone think differently. It’s a brilliant skill. Here are 10 key questions which will help your team make good decisions.
The big picture questions
1. What would our values say about this decision?
It’s amazing how often corporate values get left in the draw when big decisions happen. Which means only one thing: your values are not real. As leader, you can make your values meaningful by bringing them into the decision-making.
2. Are we treating the symptom or are we really getting at the cause?
The leader can add huge value by questioning what’s really the problem here? Often it’s a good idea to “think like a doctor” and separate symptoms from causes to get to the heart of an issue.
3. What are the 3 must have criteria?
Don’t let the discussion circle around over multiple criteria, nail your team down on the absolute must have criteria. Get rid of everything else. Check out my “clever criteria” approach for more.
4. What would you do if neither of these options were available?
Most decisions come with two few options, so it’s often a good idea to test for 1 more. Further, we often believe options are mutually exclusive when they’re not, so you can follow up with, “is there a way we can have both options?”
Check the facts and feelings
5. Are there any critical assumptions underlying the recommendation?
The best decision-makers separate proven facts from assumptions. Assumptions can be ok, as long as your team don’t start treating them like facts.
6. What does your gut feel tell you?
If you’ve read Edward de Bono’s six hats, you’ll know of his idea to get everyone to state their gut feel about an idea, without giving any rationale. The principle here is that we often have a strong gut feel about an idea, but we don’t usually say this, we instead post-rationalise our feelings with some kind of critique. Asking your team to just state their gut feel without anything else can be very useful before moving on to more logic-based discussion.
7. Who disagrees with this?
As a leader, you want your team to have robust discussions and disagreements around issues before aligning behind a solution. Sometimes you will need to encourage this process of disagreement by looking for people who don’t agree. This is especially useful where there are some loud people and some quiet people in your team. The leader must make sure that everyone has their voice heard – for your benefit, and for their benefit.
Closing the decision
8. When do we really need to decide by?
We often need to balance the need to gather more information with the need to move quickly. The CEO should be pushing to understand what further critical information could aid the decision, and trade this off against the risks of waiting.
9. What do you all agree on?
Once a range of options and perspectives have been stated by the team, it’s time to align them behind a decision. One way to do this is to start with small wins, i.e. build some momentum by identifying the things people agree on. This starts a process of building agreement, and can be more powerful than starting with the areas people disagree on.
10. Imagine we chose this option and it turned out to be wrong, what could be the reason why it turned out to be wrong?
This is the pre-mortem technique, from Gary Klein, that I often use with senior leaders. It surfaces 30% more risks than a standard review of a situation, by taking advantage of the ability of our brains to fill in gaps in stories.
Don’t forget as well the need to sum up and check for commitment at the end of the meeting; if you don’t get 100% commitment from your leadership team, the decision won’t get executed properly.
If you take this “coaching” approach to your team’s decision-making, they will improve over time as they learn the types of question you ask and think about them before coming to you. That’s a much better approach than taking the decision off their hands – in which case you will encourage a bad case of learned helplessness. And that will leave you and your team frustrated.
Written by Rob Pyne