The best way to ask effective team building questions

By Solomon Masala | Team Building

Oct 20
Asking effective team building questions

“Only good questions deserve good answers.” Oscar Wilde

These are examples of bad team building questions I’ve actually heard facilitators use.

  • “What color do you feel like when you failed at that task?”
  • “How did it feel to do that activity?
  • “So…how was that?”

But typical team building facilitators will ask things like this all the time. Bad may be too intense – really I should say, tragically ineffective (missed opportunities for learning). Since I’m being potentially controversial, let me break this down.

Why You Must Ask Good Questions: Real Learning
First, an activity or experience is only as good as the reflection (questions) that follow. The best practice for experiential learning in any learning environment requires making an activity relevant and worthwhile by connecting it to behavior change or skill development. In order to ensure this happens, there must be a reflection process that causes participants to deeply consider what happened, why it happened, how they contributed to it (or not) and what future action/behavior will be best, moving forward.

So, for the reflection (leading to understanding) to stick, it cannot be told to participants. Participants themselves must do the internal processing to analyze and synthesize awareness that yields understanding (and thus skill development and behavior change). The reflection questions must lead to unearthing awarenesses; that’s the critical way for understanding to emerge.

Take for instance a process with an objective to support the team in developing better communication skills.

A scenario for Using Team Building Questions
If after the activity the facilitator asks, “So how was that…?” they’ll typically get crickets (blank stares, silence, awkward looking around). A few extroverted folks might give one line answers that show zero learning: “Uhhh – great…” or “That was um, good…” That tragically ineffective reflection question is too broad and general – it leads the participants to all kinds of considerations, instead of the pointed reflection on communication behavior. Plus, most teams (people) have not practiced deep and rigorous process reflection, so the skill to answer such a broad question is just not there.

A useful reflection question generates rigorous consideration of the activity outcomes and process.

Useful questions in this scenario would be:

  • “Think about what you experienced and observed in the activity – on what elements of communication do we need to work to have a better team process?”
  • “Which communication behaviors supported or inhibited our process in the activity?”
  •  “What elements of communication supported our success in the activity, and what strategies can we engage to keep practicing those behaviors?”

The Best Reflection Questions for a Team Building Process Ensure:

  • Participants reflect on an open ended question relevant to the activity experience
  • Participants reflect on their (or the group’s) specific behaviors/actions/understandings (or lack thereof)
  • Participants reflect on the specific objectives of the activity in ways that help them analyze what happened, and synthesize useful learning
  • Participants reflect on how they can transfer awareness from the activity to the actual workplace environment
  • Participants construct relevant meaning from the activity and the questions process

Remember, the whole point of doing team building in the first place is to generate new awareness that leads to better performance (i.e. behaviors that lead to more success with inter-team dynamics and with customers/clients).  So when you hire a facilitator (or are the facilitator), ask good questions: be sure they lead to the understanding you really want – that’s where behavior change starts.


About the Author

Solomon is a trainer and consultant who works with organizations and teams in a graceful, energizing, and insightful manner - transforming the individuals and the whole. Inspiring, palpable and sustainable, positive change is always a result.