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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Problems of Practice & Questions of Practice

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #133

People often ask me where I find the ideas for my weekly Leadership Thoughts articles. Usually, I focus on something I've been contemplating and need to put into writing to solidify my thinking.

Recently, I have been musing over how combining two separate concepts could create a powerful tool for solving long-term organizational issues.

The first concept that often appears in discussions of organizational leadership is known as "problems of practice." Leaders face specific, real-world issues when running an organization or team and require practical, solution-oriented solutions. These problems can be complex, dynamic, and tailored to the situation, and many have gone unaddressed for a long time.

The second concept is "questions of practice." although closely related to "problems of practice," it can serve as a strategy for solving the identified problem of practice. When the two concepts are merged, questions of practice can serve as the foundation for inquiry and research. The questions will drive the need for intense investigation and a search for evidence-based answers.

Problems of practice often arise from unresolved complex issues facing organizations. They are multifaceted challenges that often defies successful solutions. Effective leaders will continuously identify and address these challenges using problem-solving skills, adaptability, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

The identification of problems in any organization appears to be easy. After all, ask any individual, and most will be able to give you a list of the problems in their organization. Many will even add a solution by saying they need to do this or they need to do that (I never could find out who "they" are). The trouble with this approach is that what is often shared is not the actual or root problem. Too often, leaders attempt to be evidence problem-solvers; they rush to a plan of action without asking good questions. Questions of practice will revolve around the idea of getting to the root problem by forming questions. The process is practical and revolves around the concept of applying theory, research, and existing knowledge to real-world organizational challenges.

The Tool

When I read Erika Hall's Mule article, Brainstorm Questions Not Ideas, published on the 14th of March in 2023, I felt it was an ideal way to link together problems of practice and questions of practice. Hall argued that research has proven brainstorming in groups is ineffective. Her solution is to take the time to write down all the questions you can think of related to a problem, process, or situation. This method helps better understand the issue and reveals shared insights into the difficulty and desired outcomes.

The second paragraph of the article grabbed my attention and convinced me to continue reading.

"However, because many of us have been rewarded and praised for having right answers and clever ideas, in school as well as in professional life, the questioning and critiquing part of design can get very uncomfortable. So much easier to sink into the fluffy pillow of groupthink."

How to Conduct a Questions Brainstorming Session

1. The first step is to get over the idea that asking a question diminishes your standing within the group. Endorse John Maxwell's platitude that "good leaders ask great questions."

2. Make a post-it note for each query and lay them out according to how much is known and the importance of discovering the answer. See the following chart.

3. Once you have put the questions on paper, take some time to discuss and refine them. Organize the questions according to topics and make a list. Remember that you don't need to answer every one of the queries- it is okay to leave some out.

4. Determine which inquiries must be explored and how you will research the problem.

5. Establish a timeline and plan to share your research results and consider potential solutions.

By employing "Questions Brainstorming" as a tool to address the problems of practice and questions of practice, we can guarantee that research and problem-solving efforts are precise, applicable, evidence-based, and connected to the solution. This approach results in more fruitful and long-term solutions and the creation of a learning organization.


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