I have worked with corporations for over thirty years—both as an employee and an external organizational consultant—and have observed an increasing demand on work teams and individuals to find solutions, make decisions, and take action. This focus on action and results, woven into the fabric of our society, influences the amount of time we choose to allocate for exploring different perspectives, meaning, and possibility. Built into the landscape is an expectation of immediacy as the norm—e.g., packages “must” arrive by the next morning, and iPhone and Android users can Google anything, anytime, from any place. The “express” mentality now drives the pressure we experience in an accelerated world.

The tradeoff: In the whirlwind of “busy-ness” and swift decision making and action, time for reflection is often minimized. This reduction can have a significant impact on the outcome. Reflection time, for teams and individuals, provides a powerful opportunity to live in the question, to imagine, to innovate; for teams, it provides opportunity to wonder and discover together and to expand the range of possibility.

As someone who has historically sought closure on issues and decisions, I acknowledge that it might feel “messy” to some to live in the question. I like it when packages are tied up with neat little bows! Yet in thinking back about previous problem solving processes, some of my richest learning experiences and most effective outcomes grew out of a more protracted exploration that held open the time and space for reflection.

In my professional role, I rely on the power of questions to support my clients in their journey of discovery and growth. With teams, I often use an inquiry process to help them shift their focus from answers and outcomes to questions and discovery. The ground rules for the process help team members communicate through questions, taking time to suspend judgment and assumptions and expand their collective thinking. I’ve witnessed some amazing breakthroughs during this expansive process. Some team members find it awkward initially, because people are used to generating answers—not generating and staying in the questions; but they soon adapt and have meaningful dialogue.

With my individual coaching clients, I ask provocative questions to prompt them to look inward for their truth, their direction, and their strength…and to identify and challenge their core beliefs and thoughts stemming from those beliefs.

Questions serve to slow us down and allow us to shift from “doing” to “being” in the present moment. In the many present moments of our daily lives, is it possible to create a balance between speed and time for reflection, between action and inspiration? How might our lives, or our results, be different—what awareness and opportunities might we discover—if we choose to live more in the uncertainty of the question, to explore “what if” or “what else”?

I have facilitated team meetings for thirty years. During this time, I’ve observed that when individuals gather in a corporate group or team setting, they often bring with them a preconceived mindset, expectations, assumptions, or positions that can significantly impact the conversation and, ultimately, the outcome. These preconceptions may be interpreted by others as aggressiveness, defensiveness, or resistance…and may undermine the outcome.

Analysts/Technologists who have attained a mastery of the business intelligence tools/software may become so excited about the analysis they’ve performed and the visually impressive insights/stories they’ve created with the data…that they leave little room for others to process, interpret, and make decisions based on the information. In their excitement, the Analysts might “push” their conclusions, rather than objectively “present” their findings. This key difference between prescribing (pushing) and describing (presenting) can influence the tone of the conversation that ensues. [Note: This applies even if the analysis is performed by someone on the team, rather than an external BI Analyst.]

Business individuals—including executives, managers, and other decision makers—who focus on their operational/organizational performance may feel apprehensive about what the data may reveal or about the changes that could result from the meeting…and consequently show up armed with firm positions and defenses.

The individuals described above—from both IT and Business—are not in a mindset conducive to collaborative exploration and discovery. They are not ready to listen and consider the information in the context of what is best for the organization.

In every group or team setting, it is important to understand that two factors are concurrently influencing the interaction: content and process. The content is the topic or issue being discussed…and the process refers to how the group is handling the content. Examples of process elements include: how people treat each other, what participation patterns emerge, how much listening occurs, how much real engagement is present, and how the meeting flows relative to the established objectives, agenda, and defined structure.

Investing time at the beginning of a group or team meeting to define the process—how individuals will work together during the allotted time—results in enhanced interaction about the content, increased ownership for the decisions, and higher quality outcomes. The suggestions that follow can make a positive difference.

Tips for enhancing the quality of group/team conversation and results

1. Establish a common purpose and objective(s) for your process, as well as a meeting agenda and structure. Getting everyone on the same page establishes a shared ownership for the process and outcomes.

2. Establish ground rules (guidelines) for your interaction/conversation—for example:

  • Listen to understand
  • All ideas and questions are welcome
  • Look for ways to be part of the solution, rather than stay in the problem
  • Stay present (be here now)
  • Communicate respectfully—no blaming or finger pointing
  • Focus on what is right, not who is right—i.e., focus on what is best for the organization
  • Demonstrate a mindset of exploration, collaboration, and partnering
  • Remain curious: Suspend assumptions, judgment, and firm positions

3. Keep in mind the difference between descriptive (presenting information) and prescriptive (pushing information/trying to sell conclusions).

4. Create an environment that encourages everyone to remain curious—ask questions, e.g., Any surprises in the findings? Any additional analysis needed? What are we learning? What else might this indicate? How can we translate our insights into improved performance? Suspending assumptions, judgment, and firm positions contributes to more substantive exploration and discovery.

5. Allow time and space for exploration, for possibility, for expanding thought/discussion (vs. judging and limiting thought/discussion).

It’s up to you: What will you do to ensure that conversations about analytics findings effectively generate inquiry, focus on possibility, and lead to elegant solutions that are best for your organization?

Organizations today operate in a landscape characterized by uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Many respond by placing increasing value and reliance on data-driven thinking and decision-making to drive performance, change, and progress.

Providers of Data Analytics software—e.g., Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, and Qlik—are committed to the self-service capabilities of their platform. In fact, Tableau’s “Drive” methodology provides further support as an implementation framework, aimed at helping teams work collaboratively with visualized data and accelerate progress toward an enterprise-wide data analytic culture.

Yet, even with the most powerful data analytics tools available, your organization or team may experience special challenges requiring even further support or intervention.

Questions to ponder

What happens when interpersonal conflicts impede or even threaten the team’s ability to move forward?

What happens when the opportunity or concern now visible in your data has high stakes, high risk, or high significance?

For example, what happens when the opportunity or concern is characterized as:

  • financially, politically, or culturally sensitive
  • cross-functionally challenging—e.g., presence of silos or “turf wars”
  • highly complex or controversial
  • critically significant to the operation

Team dynamics add a critical dimension to the outcomes and benefits obtained from the data. Candid, focused conversation enables the team to spark inquiry and discovery...challenge assumptions and status quo…shift mindset or perspective. Is this possible with the internal resources in your organization? Or, might there be value in bringing in an experienced neutral facilitator to guide the team process of data interpretation and action planning…and to support the team in resolving existing interpersonal conflicts?

What will it take in your organization or team to create the collaboration, alignment, and accountability required to achieve your desired performance results?

Several years ago, I went to a neighborhood restaurant to pick up a take-out order for dinner.

Nearing the restaurant, I noticed red paint on the concrete. Someone had taken the time to stencil and paint this provocative question on the sidewalk:

I stopped and stared, as those four simple words sparked a number of thoughts and additional questions. What am I doing to serve others? How do my interactions with others—both personally and professionally—support the “greater good”? Am I using my talents optimally to add value wherever and whenever possible? How am I making a difference?

At the launch of 2017, I find myself pondering similar questions about purpose and meaning. This signals me to take time for self-reflection, which ultimately moves me toward renewal, change, and growth. Now becomes the best time to re-visit my direction—purpose and vision—and set clear intentions and goals.