Reos Partners NA

Finding Our Direction: The 5 questions

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15 - 30 Medium

An activity to identify the direction in which your work should be moving.



To clarify the focus of your facilitation work.



"I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction are we moving."

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

When we are creating collectively, there is a need to orient ourselves to the focus of our work in order to move productively forward over time. This activity is geared at helping groups engage in the act of orienting their work on an ongoing basis over the course of a project.

The following five questions are offered as a compass in the act of orientation. We never reach definitive answers for each - rather we address the question in the context of work we are doing, create our response, and in doing so plot the direction of our work forward.

As the facilitator you can use the following process at any point in your process to clarify direction and invite the group to co-create the way forward. By doing this activity repeatedly during a process you can build the capacity in the participants to use the compass themselves, giving them permission to engage in the process when they see fit as well.

Five Questions

Every collaboration is different because the particulars of the challenge, the participants, and the process are different. But in all collaborations, the participants and the facilitators need to work through the same five basic how-to questions about how they will move forward together:

  1. How do we see our situation? In other words, what is actually happening here, around, among, and within us? This question is about the reality (including the reality within the group) that the group is working together to address. If we can’t understand our reality, we can’t be effective in transforming it.
  2. How do we define success? What outcomes are we trying to produce through our efforts? This question is about where we are trying to get to through our collaboration. If we don’t know what our finish line is, we can’t know whether we’re making progress.
  3. How will we get from here to there? What is our route from where we are to where we want to be? This question is about the way we will move forward—the approach, process, methodology, and steps.
  4. How do we decide who does what? What is our approach to coordinating and aligning our efforts? This question is about how we will organize ourselves to collaborate across our differences (without necessarily relying on our usual roles and hierarchies).
  5. How do we understand our role? What is our responsibility in this situation? This question is about how we each position ourselves vis-à-vis our situation and our collaborative effort to address it.

Process Steps

  • Using either a flip chart or a virtual whiteboard program (Mural, Jamboard, Miro, etc) list each of the five questions with the description on a post-it note and share with the participants.
  • Share with them that you will be asking them to review these five questions and choose the one that feels most important to address at present (letting them know you will address the other questions in due course). 
  • Tell them that they will have three votes to use as they review the questions. They can use them individually for three different questions, use all three on one question or any other combination.
  • Once everyone has cast their vote review which of the questions has emerged with the most votes.
    • If there is a question that is clearly the focus for the team you are ready to move on to the next step.
    • If there are a couple of questions that have received a similar number of votes, ask members of the team who gave their votes to each question to elaborate on why they believe that question should be the focus. Through the conversation you are wanting to get direction on which of the questions should you start with as the main focus, which should come next, or should these questions be pursued in parallel. Once the group has come to alignment on the path forward proceed to the next step.
  • Once the question has been identified for the focus of the group, ask for participants to articulate what would tell them they have addressed the questions fully
    • Again use either a flip chart or a virtual whiteboard program (Mural, Jamboard, Miro, etc) to have people brainstorm what they believe would tell them they had addressed the question. Listing the question and then creating a space beside it for the post it notes.
    • Ask participants to name both observable actions (short and mid-term objectives agreed on, needs assessment complete, etc) and shifts in people (trust is developed, greater openness among people, etc).
    • When everyone has shared their ideas on what would tell us that the question has been addressed, let them know you will do a synthesis of the suggestions and report back to them (either later in the meeting or at the next session)

You have now clarified the focus for the group as you move forward in your work. The insights created from the participants (what should be the focus for the group at this point, what should come next, and what will tell us we have achieved this) can now be used to inform the design of the meetings and project going forward.

When it appears that the work is again losing focus or coherence, you can return to the activity to once again clarify the way forward.


This exercise if taken from the book Facilitating Breakthrough: How to Remove Obstacles, Bridge Differences, and Move Forward Together by Adam Kahane of Reos Partners.

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