Conversation design principles

You can shape your own questions in Joyous or tweak one of the questions in our library. All questions should follow the 8 guidelines below. For tips on how to shape specific question types read:



1. Keep it simple and inclusive (low reading age)

Questions need to make sense to a wide audience. Use simple language so that everyone can take part. Here are a few tips to lower the reading age of your questions:

  • Avoid adverbs. These are most commonly words that end in 'ly' (e.g. efficiently, quickly)
  • Use active voice rather than passive voice
  • The fewer and simpler the words the better
  • Don't choose 'utilise' when you can choose 'use'

💡  Tip: Use the Hemingway App to check the reading age of your statement. Try to form a statement that has a reading age of Grade 6 or below.

Good: It is clear what the risks are if we do not change to an agile way of working.

Not so good: ACME has very clearly communicated the risks involved if we do not convert to an agile way of working.


2. Questions must be comfortable

Questions need to be comfortable to answer. They also need to be comfortable for the leaders replying to feedback. Team members should never have to answer questions about their leader or their leader's behaviour. This is uncomfortable for team members. It also has the potential to bruise leaders' egos. Shape questions that focus on the outcomes of leader behaviour e.g. clarity.

Good: It is clear what is expected of me during the agile transformation project.

Not so good: My manager has provided me with clear expectations for the agile transformation project.


3. Ask only one thing

Avoid using 'and' or 'or' within your questions. If you have used 'and' or 'or' then your question is likely to be asking about more than one thing. Questions need to ask about one thing so that team members can answer one thing at a time. If you want team members to answer two things, ask two questions.

Good: How can we improve communication across the business?
What tools do you prefer to use to communicate with your colleagues?

Not so good: How can we improve communication across the business and what tools should we use?


4. Avoid ambiguity

Make sure that there is only one way to interpret your question. That way, there will be consistency in the way the question gets answered. It will also avoid confusion for those answering.

Good: Are there any issues you have seen with the new operating system?

Not so good: What issues you have seen with the new system?


5. Questions should drive immediate action

Shape questions that a team member and leader can action together. Questions can ask about individual preferences or needs, crowdsource ideas for change and improvement, and prompt reflection. These types of questions drive action and enable team members to be a part of their own change.

Good: Would anything help you perform your role better?

Not so good: What can your leader do to help you perform your role better?


6. Use different tones for different uses

There are two types of responders in Joyous: direct leaders, and dedicated responders. Dedicated responders are typically area managers, subject matter experts, or coaches.

For direct leader responders, shape questions that sound like the leader has asked the question. This makes it easy for team members and their leaders to have conversations.

For dedicated responders, you can use questions that sound like they came from the organisation. These types of questions are good for getting ideas and opinions about systems, processes, and operations.

Leader tone: If you could learn anything within the next six months, what would you like to learn?

Organisation tone: What could ACME do better to help its people learn and develop?


7. Questions should flow

Conversations that have more than one question need to flow. This will help reduce context switching.

In the first example below, both the rated statement and open text question are about receiving feedback.

In the second example, the rated statement is about receiving feedback and the open text question is about giving feedback.

Rated statement: I receive feedback from my peers and leaders that helps me understand how I can improve.

Open text question: How do you like to receive feedback?

Rated statement: I receive feedback from my peers and leaders that helps me understand how I can improve.

Open text question: What gets in the way of you giving feedback to others?


8. Questions need to be relevant to everyone

Make sure your questions are relevant to all of your audience. This will avoid confusion and ensure that everyone can take part.

Good: The tools, technology, and equipment at ACME allow me to perform my role well.

Not so good: The office is equipped with everything I need to perform my role well.