Team building ideas: Ask better questions

Team Building Ideas

Since most of our work is done in teams, developing effective team building ideas is important. Here’s the problem, though. Any reference to team building ideas tends to be completely wrapped in 19 different layers of garbage and BS. You’ll get random consultant advice. You’ll get ideas like “organic feedback.” You’ll do a few trust falls. A few managers will bellow at subordinates about accountability. Still others will screech at their direct reports about “a sense of urgency.” The idea with team building ideas is having a more effective team that achieves their goals. But because it’s mostly cliched, also-ran advice, you often return to the main issue. What’s that? Secretly, a lot of people don’t want to collaborate. That comes from various factors: The Silo Effect is one.  Another one is the whole deal where we make people work in teams all the time, but promote individuals.

In short, it’s a big racket. But what if we approached team building ideas from a slightly different perspective?

The first thing to understand about team building ideas

Yes. We all want a nice salary. We may not say it on surveys, but it’s important to us — especially if we live in a capitalism. Beyond that, though, we tend to want two things out of work:

For those two things to be present, managers need to be effective. Unfortunately, this fact isn’t always true.

When you talk about ‘respect’ and ‘opportunities for growth,’ what you’re saying is that your manager respects you as a professional. Instead of being a deliverables-hitting farm animal, you’re someone whose opinion is valued. That fosters feelings of purpose and competency. Those are very important to the human brain.

So, if we’re going to make team building ideas effective … they have to connect to some notion of “I value a discourse with you.” Most team building ideas are “I’m going to use a tired activity that I saw in a presentation once.” See the difference?

Team building ideas and the power of questions at work

I’ve written before about asking questions at work and about the power of asking good questions. Unfortunately, at work we often approach questions as “judger questions.” That’s when you screech and bellow at a co-worker, i.e. “Why did this happen?!?!” All it does is creative defensiveness, unease, and bullshit. Most managers love that approach, sadly. (Not all, but most.)

Here’s where we net out so far: people want to be respected, and they want a chance to grow. For that to happen, the manager needs to legitimately engage with the employee. Since much of work is about progress on different tasks, questions play a huge role. Unfortunately, many questions are designed to paint the employee into a corner, as opposed to moving a project forward or seeking new information. See also: “process for the sake of process.”

Is there a better way?

Team building ideas and better questions

Let’s start with this idea: 88 percent of the most-rewarded projects at work begin with a simple question. That question? “What difference could I make that other people would love?”

If a manager asked you that, you’re moving towards respect. Instead of saying, “Where do we stand with X?” your manager is now engaging with you. He wants your opinion. Wouldn’t that make you feel good?


Here’s a new article on Fast Company about asking questions at work, and they recommend three more:

  • What inspired you to do that?
  • How is this different than what you were doing before?
  • What would you need from me in order to keep doing this?

Let’s break this down quickly.

Team building ideas and three simple questions

Look at the three questions above. The first one is dicey, because “What inspired you to do that?” could be something a manager yells at you. It’s not necessarily positive. But let’s assume, for the moment, that it’s phrased positively.

“How is this different than what you were doing before?” is a good one. It shows the manager is interested in your growth and how you think about the work the team is doing.

“What would you need from me?” is a great question, IMHO. It shows the manager cares about you as a person and values you as a member of his/her team.

So, rather than a trust fall, let’s try this in terms of team building ideas:

  • Gather your team once a week
  • Get some updates on different projects
  • Ask questions like the above and encourage people to bounce ideas off each other

See the difference? One is a totally canned, cliched deal. (“Now we’ll do some icebreakers.”) One is an organic concept rooted around respect, discussion, and growth.

Which seems like a better version of team building ideas to you?

Team building ideas and feedback

It’s impossible to develop any team building ideas without understanding feedback. To that end, consider some of the following:

What else you got on team building ideas?

Self-promotional note: Just created a Facebook page for this blog. If you like this post, go like said page.

Ted Bauer


  1. The problem is that everyone thinks they have “teams” or wants to have “teams” but in reality they have committee’s. The dynamics required for leading teams effectively does not apply to individuals and vice versa

    • Concur, and usually these “teams” are formed simply to make it harder for anyone to have to make a real decision. Avoidance of decisions is pretty much the hallmark of most first-world work. Hit me up when you want to meet. I think we live near each other and it could be interesting.

Reply If You'd Like