• Ian Sandbrook

Using the art of the 'beautiful question' with our clubs

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question than can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

-         ‘A More Beautiful Question’ by Warren Berger

This is a great quote and a fascinating book focused on how the concept of a ‘beautiful question' can be the driver of break-through ideas or new ways of thinking and operating.

The basic premise is that if we want to achieve change – it’s about the questions we ask.

The inspiration for this article came from a connection on LinkedIn. He was commenting on a group discussion topic, giving his well-articulated answer to a question, but then finished with the idea posed by Warren Berger above, that the ability to ask the ‘beautiful question’ was the real skill and congratulated the person who had initiated the discussion with exactly that.

I loved that insight. It was so simple and accurate.

That comment sparked an explosion of thoughts in my head as I tried to relate it to community sport. As I kicked it around, I kept coming back to the same thought - how good are we at asking the ‘beautiful question’ within community sport, particularly, when working with our clubs and grassroots deliverers?

Are we still delivering an autocratic, top-down methodology that simply says, ‘we know best and you must do it this way’?

Do we still rock up with ‘Club Development 101’ and sing from this same song sheet, despite clubs having already switched off and put up the barriers?

Do we still struggle to engage clubs in even considering the change that is so desperately needed in many cases?

I challenge the staff and leaders within community sport that are tasked with motivating, inspiring, and ultimately, creating positive change through a largely voluntary workforce, to reflect on this.

I don’t have the answers, but I’ve thought about it seriously, and as I continue to learn, experiment and suck up as much information as possible, I’m starting to lean towards this thought:

Have we been trying too hard to give all the answers, instead of asking the right questions?

Perhaps it’s part of the subconscious power struggle that naturally exists in a hierarchical structure within so many sports. Whatever the reasons, I believe we need to move away from this outdated approach because just as society has changed and evolved, and the way people engage with sport has changed and evolved, so to must we change and evolve how we connect, engage and support clubs.

An initial observation in how we might start to change the conversation as national and regional sports organisations and sports development leaders, is to start to show greater vulnerability. The great strength of vulnerability is it makes you human and creates connection with those you’re trying to lead. People feel greater safety, and by not knowing the answer to everything and seeking collaboration, you unleash a powerful motivator for people and engage them in the process. This is powerful within your own staff and teams, but especially so, in engaging buy-in and receptiveness from clubs to ‘let you in’.

Or another idea is redefining what we look for in the staff we recruit. If we are serious about building relationships and initiating change then surely one of the top attributes we want from people working in this space is that they are naturally inquisitive. Can they ask the right questions? How about we evaluate potential employee’s inquisitiveness by asking them to bring ambitious and open-ended questions relevant to the role to the interview? If they can’t bring something worthwhile to the table then how are they going to inspire action and change at clubs or within your sport?

I’m positive that if we reframe our approach in this manner, we will get more engaged staff and clubs that start to work more collaboratively to try and find relevant solutions.

I know with my own learning, if you simply give me the answer or do it for me, I might remember it, or I may not. However, if I work through and experience the process, I definitely remember it, take ownership, and feel proud of my achievement. I’m also more likely to then go and try something else new.

I think the same can be broadly applied to clubs – give them the answers or do it for them – and it just doesn’t have meaning for them and it will fizzle out in time. However, pose the ‘beautiful question’, challenge their thinking, encourage discussion, and help them through the process relevant to them, and I think we have a whole different ball-game.

I strongly believe you will have a far better chance of starting to breakdown the invisible barriers to change that we are so often confronted with at clubs through this approach.

Therefore, it got me thinking about what ‘beautiful questions’ we could ask to engage clubs more meaningfully in the change process:

What if you folded tomorrow, who would miss you, and why?

What ‘business’ is your club really in?

How can you become a ‘cause’ and not just a ‘club’?

What are you willing to sacrifice as a club?

How might you become a more connected club?

What if the committee didn’t exist, how would you run your club?

How can you fit into people’s lives?

How can we turn someone into an advocate for your club?

How do you make people at your club feel?

This is just a small list of ideas that I’m throwing out there. However, one thing I am adamant about is these need to be ‘big picture’ focused. Too often, we are just questioning about the mundane stuff. The easy, low-hanging fruit – how can we improve XYZ process? These are important in their own way, but they aren’t transformational. We don’t learn anything about the club and break new ground by asking the mundane.

I hope you might go away and craft some of your own questions that can help you engage more meaningfully and encourage a level of thinking that will uncover some fascinating insights.

Finally, to relate this specifically to working with clubs again, you start to get honest, meaningful reflection and ideas, and it creates a ‘problem-solving’ mentality. If you can get clubs to this stage then I believe you’re now in a position to start helping them make the shift they need.

I hope this article has made you reflect and if you would like to find out more about these concepts and the services Sport for Good Consulting provide, please don’t hesitate to get in touch –

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