Questions are a way for us to understand a problem and get to the bottom of it. However, many of us don't ask effective questions, making it difficult to create a question space and start discussions.
Understanding the question space begins with accepting that questions don't live in a vacuum—they exist within a business environment. Once we embrace this, we can bring stakeholders into the discussion and view problems from different angles to help solve them.
Let's take a closer look at how questions can influence discussions and fill gaps in the decision-making process.
Preparation for solving a core question starts with understanding the question space.
The business environment is different in this space, and understanding how questions fit in is key to solving our most pressing problems. The question space is made up of four parts:
A question space is (arguably) the most important early stage of problem-solving.
Asking these four questions help map out and visualize a core question and get specific, tangible answers around its scope and success. It also gives your team space to talk about (and ultimately agree on) the core question, which can kickstart debates to solve a problem from all angles.
The result of embracing the question space is it creates an environment for figuring out the root of a problem.
Your question space can be unlocked with the right process.
Build your own question space worksheet using the four steps we just discussed:
💡 Prezent Pro Tip: A core question needs to be dynamic in today's business world. Embracing the question space and creating one each time your team is solving a problem helps shape core questions accurately.
Some of the best examples of using the question space to solve core problems can be found in history.
In the 1890s, London was facing a catastrophic crisis: the city was drowning in horse manure, and the Council wasn't cleaning it up properly. It wasn't just making the city dirty— typhoid fever and other diseases had also started to spread.
❓Core question: How can London solve the great horse manure crisis?
London's Urban Council, created in 1898, couldn't find a solution or agree on how to move forward. The crisis continued and wasn't solved until the 1910s—when the Model T Car was launched at an industrial scale and minimized the need for horses on the street.
❓No rigorous question space. The question space in this environment has four parts: context, success, criteria, and stakeholders. The Urban Council failed to recognize stakeholders in its discussions and missed out on a key component of the question space to spur debate.
🔍 Narrow scope. The Council focused on small, incremental gains instead of recognizing the current system (horses providing transportation) would only get worse as the city expanded and the population grew.
👨💻 Limited experts. No outside technologists, futurists, or urban planning experts were consulted by the Council for input. As these stakeholders were not included in discussions, the Council didn't consider technology disruptions or more practical solutions. They stuck to the status quo, and the crisis remained unsolved.
💡 Prezent Pro-Tip: Important questions live in a question space. As this crisis proves, simply answering the core question isn't enough—stakeholders and context are crucial to expanding the question space and analyzing the problem from all angles.
Working with stakeholders can be one of the hardest parts of problem-solving and business communication.
Don't look at stakeholders as a burden. Instead, think of them as an expert coalition guiding a project and building momentum for solving problems.
Here's how to influence stakeholders when you're creating a question space:
Leaders can improve their influence on stakeholders with a method known as the four quadrants of preferences:
💡 Prezent Pro-Tip: Remember, understanding your stakeholders and matching your communication to their style is the best way to influence them and make discussions worthwhile.
Tamsin "Tammy" Mulrooney has been a Transformation Coach at Genentech for over 15 years.
She says it's essential for leaders to understand the difference between consulting and coaching. While people often look to consultants for answers, leaders can approach coaching as a way to help their teams talk and think about problems out loud.
Here are Tammy's three main tips for leaders who want to create a more powerful question space:
Your team will be empowered to find a solution that's suited to the problem they're trying to solve. And it's all done using provocative questions that encourage them to think outside the box.
Solving problems can only be done when we create space for discussion and debate.
Leaders must embrace that the tools and people they need to solve a problem are right in front of them. Understanding the context, scope, and success criteria of the question space can help kickstart a discussion. Once stakeholders enter the space and start asking questions, it can help everyone see the problem differently and understand its root causes.
Your team is your secret weapon. Use their knowledge and expertise to create a question space, add context to any situation and analyze the problem from every angle.