Critical Questions Help Speed Up Team Building Process

Posted by Kristin Arnold on December 11, 2008

Whenever you bring a group of people together to accomplish a specific objective, you can accelerate the team building process by asking a few critical questions:

Open the File Drawer.  “You’ve been on teams before.  Tell us about a great team (any time a group of people came together to accomplish a specific objective) you have been a part of.”  This allows team members to access specific memories, situations, and feelings about being on a successful team.  If they can’t think of a great team, take the non-answer as a big warning sign:  You need to develop their team skills.

Past Performance.  “What did the team do that made it so successful?”  Past behavior is a great indicator of future performance, so note their answers on a flip chart.  This will become a great start for the team’s ground rules.  You may even want to follow up with another question such as “What were they doing that we should do on this team?”  This will allow the team to affirm the key attributes of a successful team.

WIIFM.  “What made that team so worthwhile that you stayed on the team?”  We have discussed the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) before.  We need to tap into the underlying reasons why people will show up physically as well as mentally to our teams.  They come prepared and willing to engage in the team’s work because there is a tangible benefit for them.  It takes the “hidden agenda” and makes it visible for all to see and to create alignment with the team’s published agenda.

Ah Shucks.  “If something could go wrong, what would it be?”  Create the space for team members to voice their fears, issues, and concerns about being part of the team.  Simply note what’s being said on a flip chart and then address their concerns as appropriate.

Who Else?  “Is there someone else we need to have on this team in order to accomplish our goals?”  You have tried to find the right people to be on the team, but maybe you forgot someone, or a key person is not available.  One of the biggest failings of new teams is to have the wrong (or second-best) people on the team.  You deserve the best, especially if everyone on the team agrees that you are missing a valuable person!

Politics.  “Is there someone we should involve in the process — keep them up to date on our progress — so there are no surprises at the end?”  Every team has to deal with the company or organizational politics, whether they like it or not.  So who needs to be kept informed or briefed on the team’s progress so we don’t suffer the rock phenomenon?  (You know the rock phenomenon where the team charges off and does great work, brings it back to the big kahuna who takes one look at it, tosses it over the shoulder and says, “Wrong rock.  Bring me another one.”).

Scapegoat.  “Is there something we don’t have, but need in order to accomplish our goal?”  Some teams moan and groan about the lack of “something” such as resources, training, skills, support, momentum, strategy, values, common goals.  This is a probing question to assert that they have what it takes to be successful.  (And if you don’t, develop a plan to get it!)  Anything else is just whining and an excuse.

The Final Question.  “What can I do to be of service to you in any way whatsoever?”  This question allows the team to voice their expectations of your role.  After you listen to their responses, begin a dialogue to achieve agreement on your role as a team leader, such as establish direction, develop the team, ensure participation, etc.  It also helps create a discussion about your expectations of the team.

These questions not only establish the framework for working together, but help create a sense of “team” — the softer side of teamwork.  By bringing in past experiences, we can create the expectation of teamwork — acknowledging key characteristics for success.

Question:  What made your past team experiences successful?

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