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4 Types of Questions for Better Brainstorming

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Ever been in a brainstorming meeting that seemed to go nowhere? Or a session where not all voices were included? Beat brainstorming pitfalls by focusing the conversation on these four types of questions.

These questions are based on the “Focused Conversation” – a well known facilitation technique. A Focused Conversation can frame brainstorming sessions, help debrief after an event, or even support learning in a training course. This powerful tool helps people fully engage with a topic in a way that ultimately leads to action. The Focused Conversation encourages collaboration by creating opportunities for everyone to contribute.

The order of these questions is key to their effectiveness. Questions go from the most basic to the most complex. This helps participants fully engage in the conversation and ensures all voices are heard.

1. Observational Questions

The first type of question focuses on what participants experience with their senses. Examples of observational questions include:

  • “What do you notice about ______?”
  • “What are the deliverables we are trying to achieve?”

If you’re working on a particular theme or project, come up with a basic level question on that topic such as: “Which HR processes are you currently involved in?”

As much as possible, have every participant answer the observational level question. Have everyone take turns sharing aloud to the whole group or just to someone next to them. This presents a low-risk opportunity for everyone to contribute and gets the group warmed up for the more complex discussion to come.

2. Reflective Questions

This type of question can be easy to miss. Here we dig into the emotions and previous experiences of the participants related to the topic. There are actually two questions included in the reflective segment – one for positive experience and one for challenges.

Examples of reflective questions include:

  • “What does this remind you of?”
  • “What surprises you about _____?”

Or this pair:

  • “What about _______ is easy for you?”
  • “What do you struggle with about _____?”

For more specific topics, ensure you’re allowing participants ample opportunity to reflect. Consider specific questions like:

  • “Which HR processes do you feel you’ve mastered?”
  • “Which HR processes do you still have questions about?”

As Katrina Kennedy explains it, reflective questions reach participants at the “gut level” and allow them to express themselves. These questions can also reveal important information about the participants needs related to the topic. Participants can answer these questions aloud to the group, in an individual reflection time, or even write on posters on the walls of the meeting room.

3. Interpretive Questions

Interpretive questions are where many of us are tempted to begin a discussion. These questions allow participants to consider and share about the meaning, significance, or implications of the discussion topic.

Examples of interpretive questions include:

  • “What have you learned?”
  • “What does this mean for us?”
  • “What more do we need to know or further explore?”
  • “What would we do differently?”

More specific topics easily lend themselves to interpretive questions, such as: “What kinds of tools or resources could HR provide to help make your job easier?”

These questions take the group’s discussion to a deeper level and provide wisdom to draw from in order to define next steps. In a brainstorm session, the answers to interpretive questions should be well documented and clarified as needed during the meeting.

4. Decisional Questions

Finally, ask questions related to what the group will do now with the information.

These are action oriented questions such as:

  • “What do we need to start, stop, or continue doing?”
  • “What is the low hanging fruit?”
  • “Who will do what by when?”

Information gained from decisional questions feeds directly in to the planning process and help participants understand that the information is useful and relevant to their work. Only reach the decisional level when the group is ready and has provided all the previous information so nothing is lost in the shuffle.

Do you see these types of questions in your meetings? What would your meetings be like if they used these types of questions? Consider ways to weave this method into your next brainstorm meeting or training. Even if you are not the facilitator, providing relevant comments at all these levels may help nudge the group discussion through this process.

Something to Try: “O-R-I-D Reflection”

After attending a meeting or training this week, reflect on just your own experience using these questions. Jot down each type of question for yourself and write down your answers as a way to personally reflect on what you observed, experienced, learned, and will do as a result of that meeting or class. Notice if this helps you remember the event better and if you are more likely take action based on your experience.

Danielle Metzinger is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Jackie Elder

I really enjoyed reading this article. In fact, our school is highly encouraging us to develop higher order thinking questions for our students to answer to stimulate deeper levels of thinking. They would like us to veer away from beginning questions with “what is,” but instead start questions with “how, why, explain, justify, create.” Of course, if we are just starting a new lesson then we have to ask questions that show understanding. However, after that, my question design must trigger the student to analyze or synthesize information; evaluate or judge; and, finally create. They told us that if we want to prepare our students to be creative thinkers, the level of questioning in the curriculum must get them there. Question design is a very important thing and is hard to do. Not just in the classroom, but on jobs, anywhere———if you want to stimulate more creative thought in your organization, then engage them with higher order questioning. In fact, you can give them the questions in advance to answer at home BEFORE they come to a brainstorming session. Have them submit their answers individually, then have them share out or brainstorm a stronger vision. The outcomes of your questioning are as good as the questions themselves.

https://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/stw/edutopia-cochrane-schturnaround-PD-essential-questions.pdf

https://hbr.org/video/3373616535001/brainswarming-because-brainstorming-doesnt-work

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Lisa Meiman

Great article on ways to brainstorm. Would you also recommend sending these to employees ahead of time, particularly for the introverts? Some of these take time to reflect.

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Profile Photo Danielle Metzinger

Thanks for reading, Lisa! I think if your audience would benefit from having the questions beforehand so they can reflect then absolutely do so. When it comes to the in-person conversation it will be critical to guide the group through each of the levels together even though they’ve had a chance to think about it before. I hope this is useful!

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