Using the Art of Questioning to Transform Your Credit Union from Good to Great

As a leader, you want your staff to utilize their best thinking. It is essential for you and your credit union’s managers to master best questioning techniques.




Someone once said that when you become the CEO that’s the last day you hear the truth. Yet, the CEO (and everyone else) relies on truthful information to move successfully toward the organization’s goals.

Jim Collins, author of the best-selling business book, Good to Great, writes, “Leadership is about vision – but it is equally important to create a climate where truth is heard and brutal facts are confronted.”

As for today’s credit union leaders, they are faced with the unique challenge of discovering ways to keep pace or gain on their larger financial institution counterparts. One place to start is within the credit union’s communication channels, where integrity is the key to the organization’s success. Collins’ book suggests that there are four best practices leaders should master to create an environment where truth can be heard:

  1. Lead with questions, not answers
    • Continuously push, probe and prod with questions until you have a clear picture of reality and its implications.
    • Don’t let go until you understand why.
    • Questions should be used for understanding, not manipulation.
    • Good to Great leaders had the humility to grasp the fact that they did not yet understand enough to have the answers, and then asked the questions that led to the best possible insights. 
    • Ineffective leaders came up with the answers, and then motivated everyone to follow their vision
  2. Engage in dialog and debate, not coercion
    • Good to Great companies have a penchant for intense dialog.
    • Leaders play the role of a Socratic moderator in a series of raging debates – loud, heated discussions, and healthy conflict are common and encouraged.
    • Ineffective leaders use discussion as a sham process to let people “have their say” so that they can “buy in” to predetermined decisions.
  3. Conduct autopsies without blame
    • Don’t hold back on how flawed a poor decision was — do a thorough, clinical analysis of the mistake, its implications, and its lessons.  Doing so goes a long way toward creating a climate where truth is heard.
    • If you have the right people on your staff, you almost never need to assign blame – you only need to search for understanding and learning.
  4. Build “red flag” mechanisms
    • Companies rarely stumble because they did not have information.
    • The key is turning facts into information that cannot and should not be ignored – one particularly powerful way to achieve this is through “red flag” mechanisms, early warnings that force a leader to adjust quickly and proactively, long before problems arise.

After reviewing these practices, how good are your questions?  You cannot allow for debate, conduct autopsies without blame, and put “red flag” mechanisms in place without mastering the “art of effective questioning.” Good questioning techniques lead to innovation, better problem solving, organizational bench strength, employee development, better company performance, happier employees – and the list goes on. 

Good questions are the building blocks for the highest levels of critical thinking.  One might think that the “art of questioning” is learned from the cradle.  Research has shown us this is not true. In fact, the quality of our thinking is revealed in the quality of our questions.

For example, Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, published in 1956, is still considered very relevant today.  Bloom’s model for the Cognitive Domain (intellectual capability, i.e. knowledge or “think”) is expressed as a hierarchy of categories representing specific intellectual functions.  To develop each of these intellectual capabilities, there are specific questions that the leader and participant can use. 

As a leader, you want your staff to utilize their best thinking. Therefore, it is important for you and your credit union’s managers to master best questioning techniques.  Starting with the lowest level, the six Cognitive levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are defined as:

  1. Knowledge - exhibits previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts and answers
  2. Comprehension - demonstrating understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions and stating main ideas
  3. Application - solving problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way
  4. Analysis - examining and breaking information into parts by identifying motives or causes; making inferences and finding evidence to support generalizations
  5. Synthesis - compiling information together in a different way by joining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions
  6. Evaluation - presenting and defending opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria

You cannot achieve “innovation” in your credit union unless you or your employees are asking questions at a level 5 or above.  To use these levels of questioning to increase the success and richness of your meetings, please click to this link.    

If you were to attend meetings at most companies today, questions generally come from categories 1 and 2.  If you’re interested in assessing the level of questions in your meetings, click to this diagnostic that you can use in each meeting to see where the level of questioning resides. 

After a thorough diagnosis, you’ll begin to notice more interesting meetings, with dialogs around levels 4, 5, and 6.  Your credit union will be more productive and efficient — a result of having effective leadership that is truly knowledgeable about where the organization is in terms of achieving goals.

Once you, as a leader, become more comfortable asking questions, it is easier to engage in dialog and debate, conduct “productive” autopsies, and build red flag mechanisms – and ultimately become a Good to Great credit union.

For more information about how to improve meeting dialogs for results, please visit, or contact Jim Cardwell, or Karla Norwood,  You can reach a representative by calling 800.395.1410. 




Jan. 23, 2006


  • Loved the article. Actully, there are few articles on your site that I've read and didn't find at least level 5 interest.
  • great topic!
  • very detailed - good to use info! Too rare in these types of articles/topics! thanks!