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Collaborative Inquiry

Why learning from our peers about what they think, do and achieve can be some of the best problem solving and idea generation you can do.


It’s been a long week - the project that has been challenging your skills and thinking is doing your head in. You’ve tried every strategy you usually employ but the results are just not coming through. Not only that, you know that your colleagues are looking at what you are doing with interest, with a few of them doing similar work with varying degrees of success.

You even went to a workshop on the very subject matter and have tried a few things you heard about there. But really, you’ve found that the things the presenter said haven’t quite worked the way you’d thought and you would love to talk through things with someone to tease it out.

Finally, on the way to grab some fresh air, you voice your exasperation with the job to a colleague, rather than bluffing that everything is fine. Interestingly, you find your colleague is empathetic and also sees a number of parallels to some of the work she is currently doing, and some previous experience.

This is the power of collaborative inquiry - we are never the teacher, always a contributing participant in the learning

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Out Loud

It also presupposes that both people involved will have some kind of learning and insight if they are open to it.  So rather than being a mentoring session where one person is ‘teaching’ the other, there is opportunity for both to walk away with a greater capacity to do something. 

Collaborative inquiry happens when insights and learning occur with others in a way that would never have happened by ourselves.  

You’ve tapped into collaborative inquiry - the space between people who are wanting to jointly increase their understanding, strategies, thinking and perspectives.  It’s a learning space which enriches people through a discovery conversation rather then tell dialogue.  (Tell me your problems, I’ll tell you the answer).  


You go back to your desk refreshed and invigorated. Not having to live just in your own head with the problem has been a relief and given you the opportunity to tease out your thinking in a way that sitting at your desk would never have done. Not only that, your colleague shoots through an email thanking you for the time spent together, as it opened up some great ways for her to approach something that had been stumping her as well.

Not only that, your colleague also attended the same workshop, and as you go back over your reflections on the learning, you apply a greater level of understanding of the thinking that was presented and deeper insight into how it might apply to your work.

Your colleague suggests you get together for a conversation based around the project and the work. You spend focussed time with each other teasing out the current situation, where you are trying to get to and the strategies you’ve employed. Bouncing off each others’ ideas and approaches, contextualising the thinking to your particular issue, you find some great new ways to approach the work.


Sometimes we don’t see that it is our thinking that is keeping us stuck.  We worry that we will look like we are failing, or unable to do the tricky stuff.   In reality, colleagues are more than happy to help, especially if you frame it in a way that asks them to help you tease out your thinking. 


Discomfort is a sign of growth and stretch.  This is the learning zone where we build our capabilities.  Recognising the discomfort as something positive helps us to stay out of blames and justifications when someone is helping see a new path.


In a collaborative inquiry space, investigate and explore before coming up with approaches that might work.

Inquiry is the critical word here - we want to test our thinking in a safe and objective environment that is about finding solutions.  We are inquiring into hypothesis to try out.

What if?  How could I?  What would happen if? Is it possible that? Would I find? What thinking could I use here?

And learning from others’ experience:

'Tell me how you….'  'What made you try?’  'What was your approach when?’ ‘ What worked best in your situation?'

So I encourage you to grab a colleague and over a cup of coffee, start a collaborative inquiry conversation and see what happens!


For our brains’ sake, have a collaborative inquiry walk - our thinking gets a real boost when we are moving. Our prefrontal cortex where we do our heavy cognitive lift, gets sluggish when we sit all the time. Research shows that more of our brain is engaged and firing when we are exercising. Exercisers outperform sedentary workers in most functions, including fluid-intelligence skills (the ability to reason quickly, think abstractly, and improvise off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem). You’ll be amazed by what can be achieved in a short 10 minute walk with a buddy chewing over a complex problem.

Tracey Ezard: Engage; Collaborate; Act