Jan 13 2012

Questions That Frame Responsibility

Published by at 5:03 am under communication,facilitation

I subscribe to the Strachan-Tomlinson Question of the Week email which sends out a provocative question (or form of question). They get me thinking and help me with one of THE most important facilitation/leadership/working skills I know of: asking questions. I’m not great at asking questions and am always seeking to improve my practice.

I have been intrigued by questions that help frame responsibility in a group, rather setting up an expectation that the convenors, facilitators, leaders, whatever — are responsible for everything. That is rubbish. This week’s question does that for me:

Question of the week | January 11, 2012

Ask “What is one thing you do not want to see happen
in this session”

This question enables participants to voice their concerns and contribute to norm setting in a group. Responses may also yield potential insights for the facilitator about previous group process experiences of participants. To bring this discussion to a positive conclusion, ask participants what they need to do to avoid what they don’t want to see happen in a session. This will result in people setting positive norms for working together. See Making Questions Work, Chapter 4, “Questions for Opening a Session”, p 88.

This reminds me of a question Peter Block  asked at the Nexus for Change gathering in 2008. It was something to the effect of “if this meeting (project, etc) were to be a failure, what would your role be in that failure? The guts of these questions all point to the idea of everyone getting “skin in the game.” Owning it. Not simply applauding or rejecting from the side. IN THE GAME. It is too easy to sit back and criticize. It is harder to foster the conditions, to create the invitation and ask the questions that get them to engage and own it. That’s why I like these questions.

For more on questions and methods that encourage ownership and responsibility, see:

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Questions That Frame Responsibility”

  1. virginia Yonkerson 15 Jan 2012 at 9:17 am

    These are great questions I’m going to use in my group communication classes. These questions also open up a discussion of group expectations and norms which are difficult for college students to discuss, especially at the beginning of the group process. This is because they don’t want to insult others in their group (yes, believe it or not, they are concerned about being polite). As a result, I get a lot of group think. This is one way to avoid that.

  2. Nancy Whiteon 17 Jan 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Stephen Downes posted this today and I like how he elaborated on this…

    ” Questions That Frame Responsibility
    Nancy White, Full Circle
    Nancy White writes, “I have been intrigued by questions
    that help frame responsibility in a group, rather setting
    up an expectation that the convenors, facilitators,
    leaders, whatever — are responsible for everything.” My
    thinking is that this is half-correct. Yes, we have to stop
    depending on the leaders – from President to Shop Floor
    Supervisor – to do it all. On the other hand, this
    responsibility does not shift into that formless entity
    called ‘the group’ because the group is congenitally
    incapable of assuming it. Rather, each individual within
    the group assumes an partial and interconnected
    responsibility. That’s a very different picture.
    Comment: http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=57037
    Direct Link:

  3. Nancy Whiteon 18 Jan 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Virginia- I meant to circle back and lost my stream of thought… after Stephen’s post, I started thinking about this tension between individual and group. I’d be curious how your students think about what is their personal responsibility vs the group’s. Thoughts?

  4. Nancy Whiteon 18 Jan 2012 at 12:26 pm

    There is a slide deck linked on this page that touches on bits of this http://leadershiplearning.org/blog/bcelnik/2011-11-10/upcoming-2012-webinar-if-you-till-it-they-will-come-nurturing-collective-lea

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
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