Do you have a fantastic team that delivers but persistently asks for help? Of course, as the manager or boss, it's your job to guide and nurture them, but there can be a time when employees are too reliant on you for Every. Little. Thing.
One Gallup study found that half of employees surveyed strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. However, when employees are confused and unsure, performance drops, and mistakes happen that affect the company's bottom line. For you, task uncertainty can result in a ceaseless stream of questions.
Employees asking questions is fundamentally positive. It shows a willingness to learn and demonstrates that they find you approachable in times of uncertainty. Though, perhaps they're asking too many questions. Or maybe they're questions of the wrong kind. Either way, you have a finite amount of time and energy in the day.
Here's how you can support your team members, empower them with the confidence, information, and insight they need to be independent and ask fewer – but better-considered - questions in future.
Identify patterns in the line of questioning
The first step to limiting excessive questioning is to identify patterns. Start keeping a record of who is asking, what they are asking and how often. For example, if an isolated team member comes to you with never-ending questions, the problem is possibly theirs. In this case, it would be advisable to hold a private meeting to explore why they're not processing instructions or taking things on board adeptly enough.
When multiple team members repeatedly ask questions like, "how do I do that?" or "what is the deadline?" it's time to stop and think. Could it be that you've not provided the information needed to execute a task or project? If so, it may be time to rethink some of the details required in an instruction upfront.
Evaluate whether the team is really asking the wrong questions
The 'wrong questions' vary depending on an employee's seniority and longevity within an organisation. It may be appropriate for a junior to ask, "what should I do now" but it would not be appropriate for a senior executive.
It is universal that established employees should be encouraged to check in rather than leave all the thinking to their manager.
Asking a manager to review a priority list is very different to asking, "what's next?". Asking for feedback at the start or midway through a task is very different to asking, "where should I start?". Giving a recommendation after using critical thinking is very different to sharing a problem and asking a manager to come up with a solution.
If you find the wrong questions being asked often, then clarify the objectives
The first step is to ensure that everyone on the team understands the goals and objectives of the project or task at hand, which can help the team focus on the right questions to help them achieve their objectives.
Remember that some team members will be visual learners, others auditory, and some will be written, so try to cater the communication to that which will get the best level of understanding for your audience. Also, encourage questions at this time which will help avoid questions down the track.
Guide the types of questions expected
The manager can provide guidance on the types of questions that are relevant to the project or task. For example, you may expect your team to ask for feedback at regular intervals. Alternatively, you may expect them to make decisions along the way that avoids unnecessary questions.
For new projects, you can make it clear that you are venturing into new territory, and you expect the team to think through the task at hand and provide recommendations before proceeding. Perhaps you need the team to ask for a sign-off at specific intervals.
By clearly sharing guidance around the types of questions expected, you may help avoid some of the wrong questions being asked.
Encourage curiosity to build learning
Fostering a culture of curiosity can result in employees seeking answers before coming to you. Whether googling instructions for troubleshooting, asking a subject matter expert or doing desk research, team members can often avoid asking questions that distract managers and peers where answers already exist.
To avoid going down rabbit holes and losing tonnes of time, encourage team members to ask whether there is an answer to their query within the business or whether they should start researching. Most managers agree that these are the right questions teams should be asking as it leads to learning, innovative thinking, and autonomy in a timely manner.
Develop critical thinking skills to build confidence
An empowered, informed team benefits by not being told what to do or think but how to think. Teaching critical thinking is an important skill for any manager, and there are several ways to approach it. Provide guidance on the process of critical thinking, including how to identify assumptions, evaluate evidence, and consider alternative perspectives. Additionally, the manager can encourage employees to question their biases and assumptions and seek out diverse views and opinions.
Another effective method is providing employees with opportunities to practice critical thinking in real-world situations, which can involve presenting them with complex problems or scenarios and encouraging them to analyse the information and develop solutions.
By providing regular feedback and coaching, managers can help employees develop their critical thinking skills, which means they are more empowered and confident in their work.
Facilitate discussion to lift the capability across the team
By facilitating discussions with the team, it can help foster cross-team collaboration and fast-track answers to questions that may otherwise have come up by a team member working independently.
Consider task kick-offs, stand-ups or other work-in-progress meetings that deliberately include brainstorming, encourage participation and allow the challenging of assumptions. Ensure diverse perspectives are considered to help overcome biases.
Build active listening skills
If you find yourself repeating details or being questioned about information previously provided, the team may benefit from developing active listening skills.
Perhaps you have a team member who won't let you finish the narrative without jumping the gun with their questions. Maybe you have a talker in the team who is so busy thinking about what they will say that they fail to absorb important details that will be asked later. Maybe you have a team member who takes copious notes and is so busy writing they miss the context and point and then asks you to repeat for clarification. Perhaps you have a team member who finishes your sentences, albeit often incorrectly and then comes back to ask for the details they missed.
To develop active listening skills in their team, managers can model active listening themselves, provide training or resources on effective communication and active listening, encourage feedback on communication effectiveness, incorporate active listening exercises into team meetings or training sessions, and provide opportunities for reflection.
By doing so, managers can create a culture of active listening within their team, leading to stronger relationships, improved outcomes and fewer questions down the track.
Praise when they get it right
Continual employee question-asking can come from insecurity and doubting their abilities. When a team member has completed an appropriate task autonomously, asked the right questions, taken a calculated risk, or achieved something they didn't believe was possible, acknowledge the process and reward them with praise.
Heartfelt recognition like, "Wow, you nailed that report all on your own without needing to approach me," or "I really value how you used your initiative in preparing that proposal independently", will go a long way to elevate employee confidence in autonomous decision making.
1 Identify patterns in the line of questioning to limit excessive questioning. For example, is it a whole team or individuals? This may help get to the root cause of the issue.
2 Evaluate whether the team is really asking the wrong questions and encourage established employees to check in rather than leave all the thinking to their manager.
3 If you find the wrong questions being asked often, clarify the objectives to ensure that everyone on the team understands the goals and objectives of the project or task at hand.
4 Provide guidance around the types of questions expected, such as asking for feedback at regular intervals or making decisions along the way to avoid unnecessary questions being asked.
5 Encourage curiosity to build learning by fostering a culture of seeking answers before contacting the manager.
6 Develop critical thinking skills to build confidence by providing guidance on the process of critical thinking, presenting complex problems or scenarios, and encouraging employees to challenge assumptions.
7 Facilitate discussion to lift the capability across the team by fostering cross-team collaboration, brainstorming, encouraging participation, and ensuring diverse perspectives are considered to help overcome biases.
8 Build active listening skills to create a culture of active listening within the team, which can lead to stronger relationships, improved outcomes, and fewer questions down the track.
9 Praise when they get it right to acknowledge the process and reward employees with heartfelt recognition to elevate employee confidence in autonomous decision-making.
If you are open to new opportunities, contact a recruitment agency like Trojan Recruitment Group and receive advice from the experts in labour-hire, permanent and contract staff.