April 10, 2024

3Ws by LIW

Photo by Gustavo Fring: Pexels

Introducing the 3 ws: 3 questions leaders can ask to keep a team on track

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Three questions – that’s all – to help switch off firefighting mode and give your leaders back a sense of control over what’s happening in their team. On the flip side your team members are looking for ways to get feedback, make a contribution and move past the blockages they need support on. By introducing this simple model to your organisation you can open up the communication, feedback and support both leaders and team members are receiving.

So, what’s the answer? 

Three simple questions, also known here as the 3 ws framework. But you just need to remember 3 ws.

  1. What do we want to achieve and why?
  2. Where are we now?
  3. What’s next?

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? There isn’t a lot of time or headspace available for radical new thinking or complicated models, and honestly? Your team don’t need complicated. Sometimes the answer is simple and we’re all about pragmatic answers.

(We also have the 3Cs if you want another easy framework – this one is great when your team is stuck. Read about it here)

How to use the 3 ws  

You could try opening your next team meeting with these three questions and guide your team through the discussion and then keep them as a regular standing item on the agenda. Or you could set aside time to focus on them away from the regular agenda. It really depends where and what your biggest challenge is.

W1: What do we want to achieve and why?

This opening question is all about the big picture and direction you’re heading in. It challenges you to get clear about the ‘why?’. It’s worth taking your time here to make sure everyone gets the ‘why’ because it’ll give context and clarity to the discussion you have around the second and third questions.

W2: Where are we now?

Time for honesty. Once you have clarity on the big picture, it’s time to reflect on where your team is now? You don’t have to all agree with each other, but people must be able to feel safe giving honest feedback without fear of repercussions.

W3: What next?

What do you need to do to make sure the plans you’re putting into place are the right ones for your team and the business?

Don’t wait for a crisis to use the 3 ws

Whatever you do though, don’t wait for a crisis to bring out the 3Ws. The beauty is that you can use them any time. But if you’ve spotted that:

  • people are just firefighting all the time; or
  • going off at a tangent and following their own pet projects and ideas
  • there’s tension and conflict in the team; or
  • the age old ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ is being heard a little too often.

maybe it is time to bring out the 3 ws.

Examples of the way leaders can use the 3 ws

The 3Ws model offers a versatile framework for leaders in various scenarios. LIW focus on simple tools that leaders can use in different ways to help them change their behaviour. Here are some examples to show how your leaders can effectively use this simple model.

Example 1: Team Meeting to Kick Off a Project

Setting the Stage: The leader opens the meeting by outlining the project’s end goal, emphasising its importance to the organisation’s broader objectives. For instance, the goal could be launching a new product that aims to fill a gap in the market, thereby increasing the company’s market share. From this point the leader acts as a facilitator to bring different teams and team members views ideas and concerns together to create the conditions for the teams success.

W1: What do we want to achieve and why?

  • Engaging the Team: The leader asks the team to share what they want to achieve and why to bring a shared purpose and goal for the project.

W2: Where are we now?

  • Assessment: The team assesses their current resources, skills, and knowledge relevant to the project. The leader encourages open discussion about any gaps in skills or resources and promotes an environment where team members feel safe to express concerns and challenges.
  • Feedback: Each team member shares recent insights or past experiences that could impact the project’s execution, fostering a collaborative atmosphere and shared understanding.

W3: What next?

  • Action Steps: Based on the discussion, the leader and team develop a shared approach to project implementation, identifying key milestones and assigning responsibilities.
  • Commitment: The meeting concludes with a discussion on how they will work together including what regular check-ins they want to have and how they plan to monitor progress, address emerging challenges, and adjust plans as necessary.

Example Two: One-on-One to Solve a Team Member’s Challenge

Setting the Stage: In this context, The leader opens the meeting by focusing on the team members needs in the meeting. This gives the team member and the leader equal opportunity to have a positive experience. In this context the 3ws focus on what each party wants to achieve from the meeting.

W1: What do we want to achieve and why?

  • Personal Goals: The leader discusses with the team member their meeting objectives. This could include things like getting feedback on the progress of a project, overcoming a challenge with another team in the company and gaining support and coaching on a sticking point.

W2: Where are we now?

  • Current Challenges: The team member shares specific obstacles they are facing in their current work. The leader ensures a trusting environment so the team member can be open and honest without fear of judgment.
  • Evaluation: Together, they review the any additional feedback they might need to gather or information that will help the team member gain more context.

W3: What next?

  • Action Plan: The leader and team member collaborate to create a plan to address the challenges discussed. This might include training, mentoring, or adjustments in approach, or seeking stakeholder feedback.
  • Support: The leader commits to providing ongoing support and resources to help the team member overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.

Example 3: Collaborating with a Customer to Define Their Needs

W1: What do we want to achieve and why?

  • Customer Goals: The team member opens with this question to understand the customer’s business goals and the challenges they are facing.
  • Alignment: Discussing the ‘why’ helps both the team member and the customer ensure their objectives are aligned, setting a foundation for a productive partnership.

W2: Where are we now?

  • Customer Assessment: The customer shares their current situation, including what has and hasn’t worked in the past.
  • Open Dialogue: The team member fosters a respectful and empathetic dialogue, ensuring the customer feels heard and understood.

W3: What next?

  • Solution Planning: Based on the insights gained, the team member proposes customised solutions that directly address the customer’s needs.
  • Confirmation: They outline the next steps, including timelines and expectations, ensuring the customer is comfortable and agrees with the proposed approach.

These scenarios showcase how the 3Ws model can be adapted to different contexts, providing a structured yet flexible approach for leaders and team members to drive clarity, engagement, and action in various professional interactions.

What’s the upside for your team? 

There’s always an upside when you involve people in decisions that affect them. These three questions will help everyone to feel engaged, especially giving them the chance to speak up and share their opinions. Leaders should also feel the pressure of being the single point of success or failure lift.

More importantly leaders gain a wide range of opportunities to practice using these questions. This continuous practice can help leaders to change their behaviour and become more collaborative and open to their teams feedback, building engagement and creating the conditions for your team’s success.


LIW develop leadership programs based on this simple framework. We could start working together by simply doing a half day session on introducing and practicing this model at your next offsite. Or we could introduce you to our other equally simple frameworks amd then discuss your broader leadership programs. Either way we invite you to work with us.

If you want to know more about our frameworks and how we help leaders and teams stay on track, contact us to discuss how we might work together.



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