In today’s ever-changing world, communication is vitally important to the success and health of a team in any organization. Teams that communicate are teams that get things done, have higher morale and lower turnover, and see a boost in productivity and throughput. But in order to communicate well, we have to learn how to communicate effectively and remember that we lead brains, not just bodies.

Because we lead brains, not bodies, we have to be strategic in our communication skills. If we led mindless bodies, we could point to where they should go and they’d go. We could speak from our instinct and everyone would instantly understand the message and react accordingly. We would live in a robot world.

But we don’t lead bodies. We lead brains. We lead people in how they think, feel and act each day. How we lead affects that day and future days, that relationship and future relationships. That’s why when someone learns a skill like managing conflict or a strategy for giving feedback, everyone wins.

As one manager from Ken’s Foods puts it, “My role at work is to help solve problems but through MAVPAK Leadership Development I’ve realized I didn’t know which problem I was solving because I wasn’t listening to understand. I was listening to reply. I now pause and listen and see if I understand the problem before pouncing on it. These classes even helped me be a better husband at home!”

One of my favorite things to teach is the difference between problem-based questions and outcome-based questions. The difference is where you focus when trying to get to the root of a problem. Work is riddled with problems. At the current pace of the global economy, work is a breeding ground for problems. And it always will be. So how do you make sure you are asking the right questions to be able to remove roadblocks?

Problem-based Questions Outcome-based Questions
Why don’t I have your plans?

What or who causes delay?

Didn’t you give yourself enough time to do this?

This puts me in a tough spot, don’t you agree?

You knew we had a deadline for rolling out the new plan didn’t you?

When will you get this done?

Can you help me understand what happened with this assignment?

What progress have you already made?

What can you try doing to change the situation?

What are some possible ways to resolve any challenges you been having?

What resource was what resources will help you move forward?

What do you need from me to move forward?



Let’s imagine a scenario where we can see the stark difference between asking problem-based questions and asking outcome-based questions. As you read, think about how you’d feel if you were in the employee’s shoes in each version of the scenario.

Here’s the scene: the team has focused on optimizing their inventory layout this quarter. One of the steps was re-slotting. Jamie was in charge of re-slotting and it needed to be done first in order for the next steps to start. Bob is Jamie’s boss. The following exchange happens:

Bob approaches Jamie and asks “Jamie, did you know the deadline was Friday?”

Jamie’s entire demeanor shrinks down. Jamie replies, “Um, yes.”

Bob says, “Well, you’ve missed the deadline and you’ve put me in a hard spot, don’t you think?”

Jamie doesn’t reply. She looks at the ground and moves her shoe in a circle on the floor.

Bob demands, “When will you get this done?”

Jamie speaks with a soft voice while still looking at the floor, “I’ll get it done by Friday.”

Now imagine the same scenario, the same project with the same roadblock, but this time, Bob is focused on only asking outcome-based questions.

The same scene: the team has focused on optimizing their inventory layout this quarter. One of the steps was to re-slotting. Jamie was in charge of re-slotting and it needed to be done first in order for the next steps to start. Bob is still Jamie’s boss. The following conversation happens:

Bob approaches Jamie and says “Jamie, can you help me understand what’s happening with the re-slotting step in our optimizing project?”

Jamie looks up at Bob and answers, “It’s hit some kinks.”

Bob nods in understanding and asks, “What progress have you already made?”

Jamie pulls out her notes and shows the layout. “We did re-slotting in aisles 1-66 and got to inbound, but the inbound manager said his shelves don’t need re-slotted and wouldn’t let me dig in and try. “

Bob shakes his head. “Jamie, I didn’t see that coming. How can I help you move forward? Could I talk to inbound for you?

Jamie “Yes, that would be great! If you talk with them today that would help a lot.”

Bob, “If I clear this up today could you get this done by Friday?”

Jamie shared a resounding, “Yes I can. Thanks for your help!”

Both examples are based on the same problem – a missed deadline and a delayed team goal. The outcomes and best probability for getting to the ideal solution were what made the difference. Because Bob learned to lean into outcome-based questions and make that the habit in his communication, the outcomes of the conversations were very different. In one situation you hear short, one- or two-word answers, very little dialogue, and it’s doubtful that the deadline of Friday will be met. Nor did the roadblock get moved. In the second version of the conversation, there was open dialogue and a roadblock was both revealed and removed.

Many teams are made up of people who have never learned there are strategies and skills you can (and must) learn and apply each day. You see managers who have been placed into management positions with no knowledge or skills to manage people effectively, and hourly workers who have little to no respect for their managers. Team building and organizational health are still a mystery to so many of us.

Things like how to ask outcome-based questions to get the best results, the power in knowing your strengths and personality so you can develop yourself for life, how to have incredible conflict management conversations or give effective feedback in a way that moves a person forward not backward. Partnering those ideas in an environment that’s dynamic and practical can give your team and your company the competitive advantage you want.

If managers were trained to build teams and speak to individuals, workplaces would see less drama. Everyone would enjoy work more. Managers could be proud of the teams they are building and the individuals’ lives that are being affected.

At MAVPAK, we understand your frustration with high turnover and a gap in the pipeline for future teams and future leaders. We created MAVPAK Leadership Development because you should have a partner to help you keep good people and raise up future leaders.

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