A Single Question Can Lead To Powerful Understanding

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not a fan of meetings with no purpose.  While I’m not a fan, that doesn’t mean my environments are free of meetings.  If we were capable of doing what we do in groups as individuals, we’d probably do everything as individuals, but we don’t.  And since we’re not going to go it alone, let’s get used to the idea that we’re going to do it together.  If we’re going to do it together that means we’re going to need to meet.

Meetings are necessary to exchange information and they can give us a powerful venue for increasing our capacity.  Some meetings are complex.  Others can revolve around a single question.

Single question meetings are some of the most powerful for a group.

One theme in the humanities is the reality that growth in human beings occurs when they are faced with a question and actively seek an answer.  This is why we have the Socratic Method and multiple choice tests.  We view questions as essential to our learning and when we’re learning we’re growing our capacity.

Of the many groups I’ve worked with over the years, one of my favorites was the development team at Ventive.  Each month they held a “drink & think” meeting.  It means what it sounds like.  The company paid for two or three growlers at one of the local breweries in Boise and we’d focus on our technical learning as a group.

One month I got to teach the differences to the triple constraint in waterfall and agile.  Another month we did an estimate drill for a theoretical client.  Then there was the month when I brought in some painter’s tape, a stack of blank paper, and a box of sharpies.  On one piece of payer I wrote “most valuable” and put it up on the left hand side of the wall.  On the right I put up a page with the words “least valuable.”  By the time I was done everyone’s glasses were filled and it was time to ask a single good question.

“How do you add value to your client?”

I then explained that for each answer to that question they needed to write it on a sheet of paper and tape it to the wall.  Within minutes the wall was covered.

Then it was time to search for the meaning behind each of those pages.  We started with one developer and asked him to walk us through his pages and explain why.  As he did we started seeing where his strong skills matched with strong client needs.  It was also to see where he was proud to add value.

We went through each contributor this way.  Everyone had a voice.  When it was done everyone knew why each page was on the wall.  Individually these meant something, but as a group they represented what WE were capable of doing.  Each person during the meeting that day learned more about what everyone else’s strengths and challenges were.  We also had a clear way of seeing what we could do as a team.

In a fast-growing environment like Ventive where new hires were frequent meetings where we get to know one another’s strengths were key to our success.

A single question can bring together powerful answers at both the individual and group level.  So, what you need to decide is what is your next good question?

 

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