Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Nonprofit boardroom inquiry: A few examples

What does humble inquiry look like in the nonprofit boardroom? What's a good example of diagnostic inquiry? How do I recognize - and use -  the four types of questioning engagement described in last week's post?

I closed that entry, introducing Edgar Schein's four types of inquiry, knowing that I at best whetted some readers' appetites but not sure it merited a follow up with so many other governance topics to cover here. But when a member of the BoardSource LinkedIn group requested a few examples, I took it as a welcome challenge to expand upon them and offer my interpretation of what each might look like in a typical board setting.

Bearing in mind that Dr. Schein may read these and say to himself, "Boy, this person has really missed my point," I offer a few sample questions of my own and, in some cases, from others - including the seminal Governance as Leadership (GAL). I'll offer a very brief reminder of the definition for each for context.

Humble Inquiry -- Asks inviting and non-threatening questions without already knowing the answers. Attempts to discover what's really on the other person's mind.

  • (Probably the ultimate humble inquiry question all nonprofit boards need to ask, via my friend, Hildy Gottlieb) "If we were 100 percent successful, what would our community look like? What would be different? For whom?" 
  • "What does success look like for you as a board member? For yourself? For the board?
  • "How do we demonstrate accountability as a board? To whom are we accountable, and what is important to them? How will we communicate our progress?"
  • "What headline would we most/least like to see about this organization?" (GAL)

Diagnostic Inquiry -- Not telling but steering the conversation, usually in the direction of something about which the questioner is curious (but not actively shaping or promoting a specific viewpoint). Can involve feelings and emotions, causes and motives, action-oriented questions, and/or systemic questions.

  • "How did we get to this point? What factors (positive, negative, something else) led us here?"
  • "What do you  feel you need to know/learn how to do to be most effective as a board member?"
  • "What have we tried so far in this area, and what worked? What didn't quite meet our expectations? Why?"
  • "Have we clarified (or muddled) organizational values and beliefs?" (GAL)
  • "What did we once know to not be true about the organization that now is?" (GAL)

Confrontational Inquiry -- Inserting your own ideas. Questions really are telling, but in different form.

  • "Were the others in the room surprised?" (Schein)
  • "Can we flourish in a neighborhood in decline?" (GAL)
  • "Where are we failing to meet our community outreach responsibilities?"
  • "Where did we miss the landmarks of generative issues and why?"(GAL)
  • "Why are we struggling with our fundraising role?"

Process-Oriented Inquiry -- Focus on the relationship itself, the "here and now" interaction.

  • "What about this is making people uncomfortable right now? Why?"
  • "How could we have handled that differently?"
  • "Where are we losing you in our meetings?"
  • "What do you need from me, as board chair, to help you succeed as a board member?"
  • "Is this too personal?" (Schein)
  • "Why did you choose to tell your feelings in that particular way?" (Schein)
  • "What should I be asking you now?" (Schein)

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