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What would your business’s “greatest hits” be if it went under tomorrow? Or what games are played here? Or if you worked in a big glass fishbowl, what might you do differently?

I’ve used these thought-provoking questions, during team building, business and strategic planning as well as leadership development to get people thinking in new directions. Here are three “shake-em up” questions that have generated great discussion and creative solutions.

1. What drives our best customer’s crazy and what makes them exceedingly happy?
This goes beyond the cliché of being customer focused. It energizes people to talk about what they really know about your customer’s needs and expectations. A follow up question could be how can we help our best customers get rid of the thing that drives him crazy and supply the things that will bring a smile to his face? And it can lead to the development of new products and services that will benefit the customer and the company as well. So shake the ideas tree.

2. What is the most likely reason someone would want to join our company and why someone would leave it?
This probes deeper issues about what’s attractive and also unattractive about the company and its culture. It can set off fireworks about hiring and firing polices; about good and bad managers; about wages and benefits and a whole slew of other talent management issues as employee motivation, engagement and development. So don’t ask this question unless you want to hear the good and the bad and also are willing to do something about it.

If someone burst into your meeting and shouted “I’ve got good news and bad news,” what do you think those two pieces of news might be?

This question can open up a discussion of how things are really going. I have found that people are under the illusion if we don’t talk about it, it’ll get better or hopefully go away. But generally it doesn’t. It gets worse. So it’s better to find out there are, for example, defects that are being ignored or that the deadline will not be met – and deal with it promptly. You then can stop production until the defect is corrected rather than ship it out and hope the customer won’t notice. Or you can talk with the customer  about extending the deadline now rather than beg forgiveness later.

Smart Moves Tip:
All companies need fresh ways to approach problems and opportunities. Or else they will stagnate and perhaps, die. So set aside time at your next board, staff, team meeting or retreat to think outside the box by asking “shake-em up” questions. It may generate some controversy, but that’s OK. It’s better to get an issue out in the open where it can be addressed rather than hidden where it can lead to petty disagreement, employee disengagement and worst of all, customer dissatisfaction.


Marcia Zidle, the smart moves executive coach and speaker, is host of The Business Edge on the Voice America Business Network. The show features the Smart Growth System providing small to medium sized businesses the proper foundation for expansion: a Growth Agenda that becomes their roadmap, a Growth Engine that attracts and engages the best talent and Growth Leaders that make it happen. Marcia, the CEO of Leaders At All Levels, brings street smarts to help businesses get on the right track and not get sidetracked on their path to higher performance and profitability.