February 4, 2009

The use of scaling questions when there are multiple interrelated goals

Scaling questions are extremely versatile solution-focused tools. Many people know that they can be used to help create progress in the direction of a desired situation. For instance, when a coachee wants to improve his commercial skills a coach may use a scaling question. The 10 position on the scale could be the situation in which the coachee would be satisfied with his commercial skills. The 0 position could be the situation in which the coachee lacked any commercial skills. The coach could ask the well-known sequence that is often used with scaling questions, like: 1) where are you now on this scale?, 2) how did you manage to go from 0 to where you are now, 3) what did you do that worked well, 4) What the highest position you been at on this scale?, 5) what was different then?, 6) what ideas do you have about how you can take one small step forward?

Sometimes people wonder about whether scaling questions aren't too simple to be used in complex real life situations. In complex real life situations there is often a situation when there multiple goals instead of only on goal (like improving commercial skills). Moreover, often these goals are interrelated in one way or the other, or they maybe be competing with each other. An example may be the case of a company in which one group advocated the use of proactive environmental practices. For instance, they objected to the abundant use of plastic covers around certain products. Another group in this company objected to this groups saying that the focus of the company should be achieving financial goals. The tension between these two groups grew to rather unpleasant proportions when members of both groups started accusing each other of all kinds of bad intentions and behaviors. A solution-focused coach was hired to solve this matter. To everyone's surprise, the parties were again on speaking terms within one session and fully cooperating with in two brief sessions. What happened?

The first thing the coach did was to listen carefully to both parties trying to understand their goals. After that, the coach suggested a framework in which the relationship between both goals was visualized (see below).
Then, he asked them what they considered the most desired position in this matrix. They immediately agreed that C was the preferred place to be. Then, the solution-focused coach drew a scale which looked like this:
Next, he asked the group whether this scale represented their goals adequately, to which all of them could agree. Then he asked then to consider this scale and discuss with each other where they saw themselves now on this scale. Then he used all the familiar parts of the scaling questions. A bit to their own surprise the group members started to agree more and more and discovered that there were some very interesting opportunities to improve both environmental and financial performance at once. For instance, they indeed started to use less plastic covers which was not only desirable from an environmental standpoint but also lowered direct costs and production time. One member called these 'low hanging fruits'. What is interesting is that, in the second session, the group became more united. The financial people showed increasing enthusiasm for the environmental goal and vice versa.

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