Catalytic Questioning- What it is and What it Taught Me.   A Reflection from NEHRA’s 2017 Fall Conference

Catalytic Questioning- What it is and What it Taught Me. A Reflection from NEHRA’s 2017 Fall Conference

By Cheryl Jacobs

I had the pleasure of attending NEHRA’s 2017 Fall Conference this past week. Like many other attendees, it was difficult to arrange my schedule to participate and be away from the office for two days. My long To-Do list kept creeping up and telling me I couldn’t afford to be away! However, I reminded myself as I do with my clients, to take the time to do this for myself. At several points throughout the conference I found myself refreshed and engaged – it felt wonderful to pause and contribute to my own learning and development.

There was one specific exercise I participated in that really stood out for me.  In a discussion about the competencies required for the future HR leader, the ability to handle and succeed in volatile times was a common theme.  Participants described the HR leader of tomorrow as being someone who is agile and proactive in partnering with business leaders to drive innovation and new ways of thinking.

‘Catalytic Questioning’ was a mechanism we used in an exercise to demonstrate how to approach innovation and agility. Essentially catalytic questions are the ones which hold the most potential for disrupting the status quo.  The facilitator broke a large group into smaller teams.  She gave us a topic to consider – “The impact of higher education costs’ and asked us to come up with 40 questions that would help us learn more about the topic.  We couldn’t answer the questions, but had to keep going until we had 40 questions listed.

When we had our 40 questions, we then had to go back and identify those questions that were the most important, of what would provide the most insight into the problem.

After each group highlighted their ‘catalytic questions’, the facilitator asked where those questions fell on our list (#1, #2, #3, etc.) In every case, the ‘catalytic questions’ came in the bottom half (most fell around question #25-#30)

So many of us are pre-wired to act, move, and make decisions, but we don’t stay with questioning long enough to really get at the most important angle.  We don’t question long enough to consider a problem or situation from all vantage points, and this can ultimately limit the quality and impact of our solutions and ideas, and our overall ability to pivot and adjust in changing circumstances.

 ‘Catalytic Questioning’ is a simple yet effective mechanism that my colleagues and I at MCG Partners will use to help our clients creatively solve problems and think critically.  This exercise and conference was also a reminder that the investment I make in my own personal development directly enhances the quality of the work that I do for my clients.  Thank you again to NEHRA for the important reminder!

About MCG Partners

We are a woman-owned and certified consulting firm specializing in executive coaching, leadership development, organizational effectiveness, talent management and career management solutions.  We help businesses optimize success through the entire management life-cycle.  MCG Partners is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner.


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