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Topics: Communications Management, Leadership, Talent Management
Ask or Answer?
When relating to your team members, which strategy is most appropriate?
- Ask questions "forcing" team members to find answers and / or solutions?
- Give answers and indicate solutions according to what you consider most appropriate?
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Nov 15, 2019 12:44 PM
Replying to Eric Simms
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How I'd act in this scenario depends on my goals. Do I want the junior team members to learn to think through a problem and reach a solution? In that case I'd probably ask them questions. Do I have something time-sensitive that needs to be done? In that case I probably tell the junior members the answers so they can act upon them.
Dear Eric
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

I found the two scenarios you present very interesting

Which do you think you get the best long-term results?
My own predilection is to help people think through to their own solutions. That involves mostly questions from my side.
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2 replies by Adrian Carlogea and Luis Branco
Nov 15, 2019 2:54 PM
Luis Branco
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Dear Stéphane
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

Very interesting is his approach: "My own predilection is to help people think through their own solutions. That involves mostly questions from my side"
Is this a usual approach for Project Managers you know?
Nov 15, 2019 4:22 PM
Adrian Carlogea
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But do you have the ability or should I say the knowledge to decide the technical solution on your own and then order the team to implement it?

Forget about formal authority which you may not have I am talking strictly about the knowledge to determine the solution no matter if you can enforce it or not.

The reason I am asking is because many if not most of the PMs simply can't do anything else than asking question. Even if they wanted to do more than asking questions they simply can't because of a lack of relevant domain knowledge.
It is common sense that you can't indicate solutions to people if you don't have very good knowledge and experience in the specific domain in which the solution has to be determined.

In IT many if not most of the PMs don't have good subject matter expertise and as such they simply can't define solutions. So for these PMs option 2 is simply not available for them. They may even have issues with option 1 as it is sometimes difficult even to ask others to come up with solutions as you may not be able to ask the right questions.

I believe that this question is really for technical leaders such as project technical leads, technical projects managers and low level functional managers (team leads).

So for a technical leader I think the most appropriate "strategy" is to ask the team members to come up with ideas then compare them with his own ideas and decide which is, in his opinion, the best solution.

Usually the specialists in a certain domain work together to find the solution but usually the lead-specialist makes the final decision. The PM can only make the final decision if he is also a specialist.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 16, 2019 9:37 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Adrian
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

Even if you "have very good knowledge and experience in the specific domain in which the solution has to be determined" what is the most appropriate approach? Ask or answer?
What is the best way to make decisions? By consensus or the last word to the leader?
If you want them to have ownership of the answer, then you should ask them. If you want them to follow explicit direction, then you can tell tell them, but if it doesn't work, they will blame you.

I have seen directors ask for a recommendation of whether or not to pursue a project. Our well thought out answer was no. We were then told to reconsider our answer. The intent was to get us to conclude we should, rather than tell us that we will regardless of our own opinions.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 16, 2019 9:32 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Keith
Thank you for taking part in this reflection and for your opinion:

We agree: "If you want them to have ownership of the answer, ask them"

How did the situation of the Directors reported by you end?
It's always better to draw out others' thoughts and solutions, otherwise why consult with them in the first place. No one person has all the answers, and even if they did, getting consensus is not guaranteed.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 16, 2019 12:00 PM
Luis Branco
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Dear Sante
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

Wrote: "It's always better to draw out others' thoughts and solutions, otherwise why consult with them in the first place"

What is the advantage (s) of consulting others?
Nov 15, 2019 1:12 PM
Replying to Stéphane Parent
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My own predilection is to help people think through to their own solutions. That involves mostly questions from my side.
Dear Stéphane
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

Very interesting is his approach: "My own predilection is to help people think through their own solutions. That involves mostly questions from my side"
Is this a usual approach for Project Managers you know?
if there is time I always ask questions to guide them through getting answers on their own. If they state something i know to be wrong, I'll take their perspective and create a scenario where it becomes clearer.

But i always ask and answer as if I don't really know. This makes for good dialog.

If it's a situation where there's little time, i might make suggestions.

The reason for this is _not_ because of the common misconception that people want to own it. Most of the time they are more intersted in a solution that works for them. But if they don't work it through themselves and there is a problem later, they will think i just gave them a bad solution and I didn't understand. If they work through it in their head and then there's a problem, they are better prepared to fix it.

People don't resist good solutions - they resist imposed solutions.
I have a lot more about this in a blog somewhere - i'll post a link to it by next week.
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 16, 2019 1:16 PM
Luis Branco
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Dear Al
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

In an adaptive development approach (Agil) which is the most appropriate? Ask or answer?

I'll be waiting for you to post your blog articles so I can read them all over
Luis,

If a decision has already been made (e.g. by upper management), then you should state the facts as they are to the team, providing appropriate context. Otherwise, if you have a problem that is going to impact your team, then it is appropriate to engage the team for solutions. If that is the situation, then read further.

I’m a firm believer in “challenge-based problem-solving” (which I will explain below). However, for such an approach to work, the team must have a strong sense of psychological safety in the area of being “wrong,” and as with most things, this starts with the leader. You see, when a leader admits they are wrong, others recognize they have the freedom to do the same, and an atmosphere of challenge-based thought is created. This occurs as the verbalizing of thoughts and ideas is no longer constrained to the fear of being wrong. And when fear is vanquished, barriers fall down. To make this point to other leaders, I jokingly say, “being wrong is the new right” to encourage the leaders to break the ice and be publicly wrong for the sake of their teams.

So, if you have a conducive environment for challenge-based problem-solving (i.e., the team doesn’t fear being wrong) then I believe the best approach is to engage your team regarding the question or problem that is on the table. To do this, the leader literally states, “let’s have a challenge-based discussion,” and the leader states the concern and the challenge (i.e. productive arguing) begins on the subject. When ideas are stated, you invite additional challenge to that idea, and the process continues until it resolves itself to a conclusion.

When you have buy-in from a team, productivity, and effectiveness is greatly enhanced.
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2 replies by George Freeman and Luis Branco
Nov 17, 2019 4:21 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear George:
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion.

Interesting approach: "If a decision has already been made (e.g. by upper management), then you should state the facts as they are to the team, providing appropriate context"
Thank you for looking into the situation from this perspective.

Do you think there should be full accountability on the Project Manager?

His other approach concerns the leader's role in creating the enabling environment for team members to participate.

Of course you can do that by asking questions instead of giving answers.

With:
- The democratization of access to information
- The most knowledgeable people
- People wanting to participate in reflection and decision making
- Inability to achieve results without people's involvement

Could it be answer instead of ask?
Nov 17, 2019 3:29 PM
George Freeman
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Luis,

In answer to your questions to me:

- Do you think there should be full accountability on the Project Manager?
- - - Yes, accountability begins with and ends with the project manager (when operating under charter as the accountable PM).

As it relates to your overall question, when put through a “challenge-based” process both the “Ask” and the “Answer” are giving an appropriate audience.
Nov 15, 2019 1:12 PM
Replying to Stéphane Parent
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My own predilection is to help people think through to their own solutions. That involves mostly questions from my side.
But do you have the ability or should I say the knowledge to decide the technical solution on your own and then order the team to implement it?

Forget about formal authority which you may not have I am talking strictly about the knowledge to determine the solution no matter if you can enforce it or not.

The reason I am asking is because many if not most of the PMs simply can't do anything else than asking question. Even if they wanted to do more than asking questions they simply can't because of a lack of relevant domain knowledge.
...
1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 17, 2019 4:25 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Adrian
Interesting your comment
Thanks for sharing

Do you think that what drives Project Managers to ask questions instead of answering is just a lack of technical knowledge?
Luis

From my point of view, this specific thing is not black or white. It depends on the situation, the team, the culture, and many other factors so unless there is a specific situation you have in mind, I guess it can be any of the two choices.

RK
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1 reply by Luis Branco
Nov 17, 2019 4:28 AM
Luis Branco
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Dear Rami
Thank you for participating in this reflection and for your opinion

What is the most appropriate approach in general?
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