The questions we ask shape the answers we get.

During the planning of the Brexit referendum, the original question was, “Should the UK remain a member of the European Union?” In polling, 59% of people said yes. But, when the pollsters asked an alternative question, “Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” only 55% opted to remain.

In the end, the Electoral Commission recommended that the second question be used, and the 4% difference may well have changed the Brexit result and the course of British history.

The questions we ask in our own organisations may not have such historic consequences, but they are still critically important.

That said, business leaders often assume that their teams look to them for all the answers. But it’s unrealistic to believe that you have all the answers to all the big questions. Instead, engaging your teams and asking them open, thought-provoking questions will not only help you to develop better solutions, but it can also improve the level of trust your team have in you as a leader.

But what is a ‘good’ question? The simple answer is that it is a question that encourages involvement, collaboration and openness. Rather than asking “How can you grow revenues by 15%?”, for example, which may make your managers feel a bit defensive and that they’re being criticized or put on the spot, a better question may be, “What other customer groups could we target with the same or similar products and services that we already offer?” or “What are the big unmet needs of our customers that we could focus on to drive to new growth opportunities?”

Focusing your questions on the future and on new ideas and possibilities encourages others to share their own insights and ideas. It also highlights to your team the importance of creating a better future, and not simply delivering your current budget targets.

What questions could you ask to encourage bigger thinking, better ideas and greater collaboration in your organisation?

Off The Record: The Logical Song by Supertramp

But at night, when all the world’s asleep

The questions run too deep

For such a simple man

Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned?

I know it sounds absurd

Please tell me who I am