Thoughts on Business, Church, and Life

Empowering the Team with Pre-Emptive Questioning

As our business grows, I find myself with more and more opportunities to pass work on to others in my organization. I am constantly training, providing input and feedback, and helping my team be effective, productive, and efficient. It is not uncommon that I notice my team doing tasks or making decisions differently than I would in a similar situation. This difference isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s my job to provide general direction and help to keep things on course. And, ultimately, every decision we make falls on my shoulders.

Of course, I could simply do everything myself. I could run the entire business with no outside help, removing any opportunity for business growth or diversity. If you want something done right, do it yourself, right? But this would just be silly. My entire team knows how much of a bottleneck I can be to our processes since I have so much going on. Thinking that things would better if it were just me is ludicrous. For instance, next week I’ll be in Las Vegas, and the week after I’ll be in Dallas. There’s no way I can do everything myself. And I don’t want to.

So, how do I keep quality high within our organization but also not get roped into doing everything myself? Simply put, I teach my team how I think instead of telling them what to do. It’s something I call “pre-emptive questioning”.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Instead of me making every decision within our organization, my goal is to empower our team by helping them understand how I think so that they can make decisions without requiring constant input from me.

This mindset is most critical early on in any decision-making process.

Many problems arise which ultimately require my approval but most of the research will be done by another member of the team. When these situations arise, it is my job to set the stage for this decision to be made. If I simply ask my teammate to research the situation and then come back with a recommendation, it is very likely that I will have more questions when he comes back the first few times. This creates a long and drawn out period of back and forth questions which can be frustrating to he and me both.

The other option is that I provide my teammate with the questions that I will need answered in order to make a final decision, and then ask him to research the situation and bring back a recommendation. By pre-emptively questioning him about the situation, I am increasing the likelihood that he return with all the information I will need to then make a final decision.

For example…

Just last week we had a problem in our data center which required us to make a purchase. We could decide to fix the issue with a cheap but possibly short-term fix, or we could use this as an opportunity to fix it long-term with an upgrade.

I brought our lead systems engineer up to speed on the issue to get his input and insight (I truly did want his opinion on what to do). He suggested a particular fix, and we disagreed a little on the exact implementation of this fix. As we went back and forth, I came to a realization: I could remain very hands-on to this situation, and allow it to slow down other initiatives in the organization, or I could empower my colleague to handle the situation while I remained focused on my other responsibilities.

I wanted to empower him. But how?

Instead of telling him I wanted it done my way and sending him on his way, I explained what criteria I wanted him to use when making a decision. His instructions were not “go buy a new server”. Instead, I articulated what things I wanted him to look into, what dollar amounts I wanted him to be sure he knew, and what specifications and calculations I wanted to be sure he had uncovered before making a purchase. With this information, I sent him on his way.

Now, the situation is “owned” by him. He hopefully has an understanding of the parameters within which I want a decision to be made, and he’s now been empowered to make the decisions he needs to make within these parameters.

Although he’ll need to check in with me to actually make the final purchase, he now knows what things I’ll want to understand before I’m comfortable giving the go ahead. And he has the information he needs to present me a complete and coherent recommendation, being sure to address all the items that I’ll need addressed.

Hopefully, we’ve reduced the number of times I need to interact with this situation to two: first, to explain how I want the decision made, and then, second, to give a final once-over to the final decision.