Gaining Insight via Powerful Questions

What are Powerful Questions?

Asking powerful, open-ended questions makes it possible to create dialogue where there is none, and/or to have a deeper conversation rather than just scratching the surface. Asking powerful questions is an invitation to greater clarity, action. 

Attributes of Powerful Questions

Powerful questions have the following attributes:

  • Short and clear (ideally no longer than eight to ten words, without any ambiguity)
  • Atomic (a single question, not multiple questions bundled together)
  • Open-ended (framed in such a way that an answer needs to go beyond a simple “yes” or “no”)
  • Free of bias (careful word choice helps ensure the question itself does not presuppose that a certain assumption or assertion is true)


What are the Benefits?

Benefits of asking powerful questions include:

  • They enable innovation and open dialogue
  • They provide visibility into areas that require further conversation


There is no short or simple answer when it comes to when to ask a powerful question. Below are a few examples of situations where reframing an existing question as a powerful question might be helpful:

  • To get visibility into a complex issue
  • To solicit different points of view
  • To generate and imagine possibilities
  • To build a stronger sense of connection with others
  • To identify one or more solutions to a problem
  • To uncover areas that may have been overlooked during a previous conversation
  • To surface areas of risk

Who Needs to Be There?

  • A facilitator
  • A group of people who need to solve a particular problem and/or get clarity on one or more issues


Examples of inputs include:

  • Notes from previous conversations
  • 1:1 or small group conversations to help understand the group/team context


Examples of outputs include:

  • Identification of alternatives
  • Reaching a decision
  • Greater clarity on next steps

Preparing for Success

The best recipe for success is for a facilitator to find a way to fold in powerful questions where it seems appropriate to do so. In some instances, having a pre-prepared set of questions can be helpful. In other cases, the facilitator might ask an impromptu powerful question that is based on the particular context of a particular conversation. 

Thought Process for Preparing Powerful Questions

It can be helpful to start by doing a thought exercise, exploring foundational topics like these?

  • What is the general context for the conversation?
  • What are the main reasons to have the conversation?
  • What is/are the main outcomes to be achieved from the conversation?
  • What’s in it for the participants in the conversation?

A helpful next step is follow a process like this to articulate one or more questions:

  • Write down as many questions as possible that quickly come to mind
  • Write down variations on those questions 
  • Evaluate the extent to which the questions align with what the group seeks to accomplish
  • Modify or delete questions as necessary
  • Merge questions as necessary
  • And new questions as necessary
  • Ask another person for input



Below are examples of powerful questions, arranged into categories.

Visioning and Planning

  • What is possible?
  • What if it works/does not work exactly as we want it to?
  • What is the best possible outcome?
  • What is exciting to us about this?
  • What do we plan to do about it?
  • How can we improve the situation?

Brainstorming and Exploration

  • What is an example?
  • What would it look like?
  • What is here that we want to explore?
  • What other angles can we think of?
  • What is just one more possibility?

Delving into Problem Areas

  • What seems to be the trouble?
  • What seems to be the main obstacle?
  • What is stopping us?
  • What is keeping us awake at night?


  • What things stand out?
  • What still puzzles us?
  • What did we do well?
  • What should we do differently next time?
  • How will we know that we’ve realized the improvement that we seek?