Five Essential Questions in Life… and in Forum

James Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in his commencement address this year, suggests that there are five key questions we must regularly ask ourselves.  His questions also strike me as great ones to ask of each other during a forum meeting.

Dean Ryan argues that, if we get in the habit of asking these questions, we’ll have a great chance of being both successful and happy. In this six minute excerpt from his talk, he explains why he highly recommends these particular questions:

  1. Wait, what? (a question at the root of all understanding)
  2. I wonder, why/if? (a question at the heart of all curiosity)
  3. Couldn’t we at least…? (a question at the beginning of all progress)
  4. How can I help? (a question at the base of all good relations)
  5. What really matters to me/us? (a question that gets you to the heart of life)

Dean Ryan ends with a final bonus question: “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?” Life even at its best is filled with pain, sorrow and disappointments.  Still, even so, he asks, are you living a fulfilling life?

If you ask the first five questions regularly, you just might be able to answer the bonus question, “Yes, I did.”

What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team …

A recent New York Times Magazine article profiled Google’s efforts to enhance the efficiency and productivity of its teams.  What Google found to be effective at work parallels what we have known for a long time about healthy forums.

Perhaps the most important point: Great teams (and great forums) ensure “psychological safety,” a sense of confidence that the group will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.  Psychological safety leads to a team or forum climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.

As your forum begins its next meeting, ask yourself and each other:

  • Do I/we feel safe in this group?
  • Can I share my toughest challenges and highest aspirations without feeling that I will be judged?
  • Do our forum norms (the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how we function) reinforce our sense of psychological safety?