Ask Real Team Building Questions – Bowling Doesn’t Cut It

team building questions

Regardless of who your company’s org chart says you should work with, people work with the people they want to work with and around those they don’t. One way to get people working with you (by choice) is to get to know your coworkers better, and I don’t mean personally.

Most people don’t know the people they work with very well. Coworkers often don’t know what fellow team members are tasked with doing for the company, their past work experience, education, or working style preferences. They often don’t know how fellow team members like to receive information, but get annoyed when they don’t return unopened emails.

If you’ve had any team building training with me, you know I advocate getting to know people better by asking more questions.

Organizations spend a lot of money on team building. Teams go bowling, out to happy hour, and have pot luck lunches, etc. All of those activities are fun and build comradery, and that’s important. But comradery and enjoying spending time together outside of work won’t help a team learn to communicate or overcome challenges.

If you’re really committed to team building and working well with people, ask more questions at the onset and throughout working relationships.

Here are five team building questions coworkers should be asking each other:

  1. What are your pet peeves? How would I frustrate you and not even know it?
  2. Are you a big picture or detail oriented person? Should I send you information in bullets or paragraphs?
  3. What are you best at doing? What type of work could you be doing that you’re not doing now?
  4. What are you working on now? What are your priorities for the next six months?
  5. What’s something I could do differently that would make your job easier? (You will survive the answer. I promise)

Your manager may coordinate an activity that gives your team the ability to ask questions like this, and s/he might not. Either way, ask the questions and be forthcoming if others ask you for this information. It’s not just your manager’s job to get your team working well together.

Your daily experience at work – how much you get done, how easily you get that work done, and how much fun you have along the way – is largely dependent on the people you work with. Don’t leave your working relationships to chance. Be assertive. Get to know people better. Ask more questions and offer information about yourself.

team building questions


Effective Management Requires Asking Questions

Effective ManagementIf an employee quits and the manager is surprised, shame on the manager. Employee turnover – literal turnover (he quits and leaves the building) or figurative turnover (he quits but continues to come in everyday and do his minimal best) – are extremely predictable.

Most employees need only a handful of things to be satisfied and productive at work. The key is getting employees to tell you what those things are. And they might just tell you, if you ask.

An employee’s first few weeks at a new job often involve a lot of training. Managers tell employees what they need to do and hopefully why they need to do those things. I recommend balancing telling with asking.

Effective management involves asking the seven questions below during the interview process, after an employee starts, and again 90-days to six months into the job.

Effective management question number one: “What brought you to this company? Why did you accept this job? What are you hoping the job will provide?” Ask one of these three questions. Pick the one you like best.

Effective management question number two: “What would make you leave this job? What are your career deal breakers, things you just can’t tolerate at work?” Ask either of these questions.

Effective management question number three: “What type of work, skills, and/or areas of our business do you want to learn more about?”

Effective management question number four: “Tell me about the best manager you ever had. What made him/her the best manager?” This will tell you what the employee needs from you as a manager and is a much better question than, “What do you need from me as your manager?” That is a hard question to answer. Telling you the best manager s/he ever had is easy.

Effective management question number five: “Tell me about the worst manager you ever had? What made him/her the worst manager?”

Effective management question number six: “What are your pet peeves at work? What will frustrate you?” Why find out the hard way what frustrates employees when it’s so easy to ask. This question demonstrates that you want your employees to be happy and that you will flex your own preferences, when possible, to meet employees’ needs.

Effective management question number seven: “How do you feel about being contacted via cell phone or text outside of business hours? How do you feel about receiving emails during the evenings and weekends?”

If you’ve participated in one of our effective management trainings and received a box of Candor Questions for Managers, you know I could go on. But these seven questions are a good start.

Regardless of age, gender, or work and educational background, all employees have a few things in common. Employees want to:

• Work for someone who takes an interest in and knows them
• Feel valued and appreciated for their contributions
• Be part of and contribute to something greater than themselves
• Feel respected as a person. Managers respect their time, expertise, and needs

Taking the time to get to know employees throughout your working relationship accomplishes many employee needs.

If you have long time employees, it’s never too late to ask these questions. Regardless of for how long employees have worked for you, they’ll appreciate you asking. There is no need to feel that employees will raise an eyebrow and wonder why you’re asking now. They’ll just be happy you’re asking. You can simply say, “I realized that I’ve never overtly asked these questions. I just assume I know. But I don’t want to do that. You’re too valuable to me and to the organization. During our next one-on-one meeting I’d like to ask you these questions and you can ask me anything you’d like.”

If you have a manager who will never ask you these questions, provide him/her the information. Don’t wait to be asked. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Tell your manager, “There are a few things about myself I want to share with you. I think this information will make me easier to manage and will help ensure I do great work for the organization for a long time.”

Managers, the better your relationship with your employees and the more you know about what your employees need from you, the organization, and the job, the easier employees are to engage, retain, and manage. Stop guessing and start asking.

Effective Management


Seven Tips for Taking Time for Yourself

I’m going to admit that I’m terrible at what I’m recommending today – taking time for yourself. Often my weekly blog is something I too am working on, and this week is no exception.

make time for yourself

Many of you know that I’m often in three to five states a week doing what I love most–working with all of you. When I get home, I often spend my  evenings and weekends catching up.

While I feel I need to maintain this schedule to keep up, I’m aware that I can’t and don’t want to work all the time. So today’s blog is for all of us who don’t know how to turn it off and walk away from the laptop.

The value of downtime and taking time for yourself is well documented. There is a lot written on the need to take breaks to recharge, rejuvenate, and avoid burn out. The question is how to do so without feeling like something else is getting short shrift.

Here are seven tips for taking time for yourself:

Taking time for yourself tip one: Give yourself permission after a really busy few days or week(s) to take a day and do nothing. If you’ve been on the road for four days or worked really long hours, plan to sleep in on the fifth day. Don’t schedule early morning meetings and a full day. Know that you won’t be productive on day five anyway, so you might as well plan to do very little, which is what you’re likely to do anyway.

Taking time for yourself tip two: Plan a day doing non-work-related things you really want to do. When is the last time you did something you really love to do, just because? You’re more likely to dedicate time off to doing something you love than just lying around. But, if a day of planned recreational activities feels like another ‘to do,’ you’re better off doing nothing and not feeling badly about it.

Taking time for yourself tip three: Plan time to see one or two friends a week. I’ll admit that I have to schedule phone calls to catch up with friends and schedule time to see people I care about. Yes, I admit, this seems wrong. But do whatever it takes. If you have to put lunch or a phone call with a friend in Outlook for it to happen, do it.

Taking time for yourself tip four: Don’t feel badly about taking time off. I always feel guilty when I sleep until 11 am or do nothing until 3 pm on a Saturday. I still do it, but my enjoyment is diminished by my self-imposed judgment. Just do what you need to feel rested and refreshed. Stop judging yourself.

Taking time for yourself tip five: If you take a day off or sleep late, don’t work until two in the morning the next day to compensate. Doing so defeats the purpose and will put you in a hole the next day.

Taking time for yourself tip six: Watch where your time goes when you’re ‘working.’ I know that I squander lots of time while I’m ‘working.’ I allow myself to get distracted reading emails as they come in, texting, and chatting in our office. You could work fewer hours if you reduced these distractions.

Taking time for yourself tip seven: Decide what you really want your life to be about and what’s really important to you. Do you want work to be your focus or do you want an equal balance of friendships, family, and community activities? You likely have what it is that you really want.

If what you really want is a career-centric life, then just admit that and don’t judge yourself for it. But do take enough time off that you are rested, productive, and don’t resent your work.

taking time for yourself


Increase Your Job Satisfaction – Ask for More

Consider the things other people do that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for.

You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people in our lives will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. Our friends will remember our birthday because how couldn’t they know that’s important to us? And no one will come to our home empty handed for dinner because we would never do that.

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?

Increase Your Job SatisfactionHere are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:

Increasing your job satisfaction tip one:  Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip two:  Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip three:  Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.

Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”

Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and delivery timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”

People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip four:  Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.

That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”

Increasing your job satisfaction tip five:  Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.

Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”

Job satisfaction and happiness at work (and at home) don’t just happen. The people you live and work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go array. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. But you will get whatever you allow.

Increase Your Job Satisfaction


Manage Up Better to Get More at Work

Fourteen years ago, during my annual performance review, my manager said, “You had a great year. You rolled out 18 new training programs and got more participation in those programs than we’ve ever seen in the past. But you’re all substance and no sizzle. You’re not good at sharing the work you’re doing, and as a result my boss doesn’t know enough about what you’re doing and to support a large raise for you, so I can’t even suggest one.”

Manage Up

That happened to me ONCE, and I swore it would never happen again.

Too many people believe that if they do good work, the right people will notice and they will be rewarded appropriately. Part of this thinking is accurate. To be rewarded appropriately, you need to be doing good work. But the people in a position to reward you also need to know what you’re doing and the value you’re adding.

You need to find a way to share the value you’re providing without going over your boss’s head, sucking up, or alienating your coworkers.

Here are four ways to manage up while strengthening your business relationships:

Manage up tip number one: Ask your manager’s permission to send him a weekly update of what you accomplished during the week. This should be a one-page, easy-to-read, bulleted list of accomplishments or areas of focus.

Your boss is busy and most likely doesn’t follow you around all day. As a result, you need to let him know about the work you’re doing. Don’t make him guess.

Manage up tip number two: Periodically share what you’re doing with the people your manager works for and with. That can sound like, “I just wanted to share what my department is accomplishing. We’re really excited about it.” Ask your manager’s permission to do this and tell her why you want to do it (to ensure that the senior people in your organization are in-the-know about what your department’s accomplishments).

If you’re not sure who can impact your career and thus who you should inform about your work, ask your manager. She knows and will tell you, if you ask.

Manage up tip number three: Use the word “we” versus “I.” “We accomplished…..” “We’re really excited about….” Using the word “we” is more inclusive and makes you sound like a team player versus a lone ranger.

Manage up tip number four: If you work remotely and don’t see your coworkers and manager often, make sure you’re keeping people informed about what you’re doing. Likewise, if you work flexible hours – leave early, come in late, and work at night – people will assume you’re working fewer hours than them and will talk about it to whoever will listen. So while the hours you work shouldn’t be anyone’s business, people in organizations talk about stuff like this.

Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing or the value you’re adding to your organization. Instead, assume people have no idea and find appropriate ways to tell them. You are 100% accountable for your career.

Manage Up


Unhappy at Work? Know When to Go.

unhappy at workThere’s when things end and then there’s when we physically leave, and the two rarely coincide. Sometimes it takes six months, a year, or even longer for our body to catch up with our brain.

Knowing when to leave a job, a relationship, and even a party is a skill. If you’re unhappy at work, have asked for what you want, and know you can’t it where you are, develop an exit strategy and act on it quickly.

When you’re checked out, people know. Unhappiness shows up in our performance, attitude, and body language. And quitting and staying is bad for your career, reputation, and business relationships.

If you’re unhappy at work and are ready to make a change, there are a few actions you should take to keep your reputation intact while you make a transition:

  1. Make sure you’ve fully investigated your options at your current place of work before deciding to move on. Share your desires in a positive way, with people who can help you get what you want. Saying, “I’d really like to do _________, or I’d really like to work in the ______ department” will get you much further than saying, “I’m underutilized, undercompensated, and unappreciated.”
  2. Do your job and do it well. Don’t go missing in action.
  3. Only commit to things you know you can and will do, and keep your commitments.
  4. Confide in people about your unhappiness and future plans who are outside your current place of work. People talk. Assume anything you tell someone at work will be told to someone else.
  5. Take at least one action every day towards getting what you want. It can be easy to get into a rut when job hunting. Stay in action.

If you’re unhappy at work, it’s probably time for a change – either within or outside your company. Ask for what you want in a positive way. Do a great job on a daily basis, regardless of how you feel. Confide in people outside of your workplace. And take one action every day towards getting what you want.

Know when to go.

unhappy at work


Want Innovation in the Workplace? Hire Employees Who Ask Questions.

innovation in the workplace

People like certainty. We feel more comfortable knowing than not knowing. Not having an answer is uncomfortable. And looking for answers requires work. But sometimes knowledge is the enemy and the death to innovation in the workplace. If we know how something or someone is, there isn’t much of a reason to look for different and possibly better answers. But sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

Companies want to be innovative, creative and agile. And that’s good. A lack of innovation is surely the route to long-term failure. For example, a company is at the top of its game. It sells a product that is better than everyone else’s and becomes complacent. Relying on its past success, the successful company creates nothing new for five years, while up-and-comers are creating better solutions. Before they know it, the successful company is obsolete.

On a smaller scale, but equally damaging to innovation in the workplace, is hiring and retaining employees who don’t regularly ask the questions:

  • Why do we do this this way?
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • What don’t we know that we don’t know?

If you want innovation in the workplace, you need to hire people who are curious and think critically.

People who are curious and think critically have a few key qualities. Curious and critical thinkers are:

  • Secure
  • Self-confident
  • Coachable
  • Not afraid to ask questions
  • Not afraid to be wrong

Identifying these qualities in candidates is challenging. I’ve interviewed and hired many people who seemed quite self-confident and coachable during the interview process, but once they began working, it quickly became apparent that they were neither. If you want people who will execute an existing process that works, non-critical thinkers are effective employees. If you want people who will consistently challenge the status quo, you should let insecure and people lacking curiosity go, as soon as you see the signs.

If you want innovation in the workplace and want your organization to stay current and competitive you need to have employees who aren’t afraid to consistently ask the question “why. Incorporate status-quo busting questions into your meetings. Create rewards and recognize people who risk trying to fix a problem or create something new.

Train employees to ask these questions:

  • Why do we do things this way?
  • Why did this happen?
  • What questions have we not asked?
  • What would happen if we did _______?

As always, you get what you ask for. What are you asking for?

innovation in the workplace


That’s Not My Job – Four Words You Should Never Say

That's not my jobThere are three reasons people say “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job” –they don’t feel empowered to make decisions, they think they’re being unfairly compensated for the challenges at hand, or they aren’t particularly motivated (read lazy).

“That’s not my job” (aka, I don’t do things that are outside of my job description) is a mindset, and if someone has it, I’d suggest not hiring that person. People who think they should only have to do what’s on their job description aren’t utility players, and your organization is likely too lean to afford employees who only want to perform in a narrow box.

“That’s not my job” can also be an outcome of leaders and managers who can’t let go and let employees take risks and make decisions. If that’s your management style, hire people who will follow directions and don’t want to create new things and solve problems. Problem solvers will be frustrated if they only get to follow instructions.

Here are six steps to steer clear of “that’s not my job” syndrome and advance your career, regardless of your current role in your organization:

  1. Never say the words “that’s above or below my paygrade” or “that’s not my job.” Even if it’s true.
  1. If you don’t have the latitude to solve certain problems, ask the people you work for how they want you to handle those types of issues when you see or hear about them. That’s a subtle way to provide feedback that you don’t have the latitude you need to solve certain problems.
  1. When you see an impending train wreck, say something. I see lots of very capable employees see the train wreck coming, comment to themselves or others who can’t do anything about the problem (aka gossip), and then nod knowingly when the *&#@ hits the fan. Don’t be that person. Look out for your organization and the people you work with.
  1. If you see a broken or lacking process, raise the issue with someone who can do something about it, and offer to take a stab at fixing the problem. One of managers’ biggest complaints is employees who dump and run – “I’ve identified a problem. I’m leaving it for you to fix.”
  1. Go out of your way to do the right thing, even if you are uncomfortable or don’t want to. If it’s easier to email someone, but you know the right thing to do is to pick up the phone, pick up the phone. If an internal or external customer expresses concern and you can’t solve the problem, find someone who can. There are lots of ways to make an impact.
  1. Ask more questions. Find a non-judgmental way to ask, “Why do we do this this way?” “Have we considered…?” “Would you be open to trying…?” Status quo can be the right thing and what’s necessary. It can also be the death of organizations.

Make stuff happen. Don’t pass the buck. And if you are going to pass the buck, don’t announce it. It only makes you look disempowered and uncommitted.

that's not my job


Seven Ways to Be Easy to Work With

easy to work withIt’s often not the work we do that makes work hard; sometimes it’s the people we work with that makes work harder than it has to be.

Below are seven practices that distinguish people we want to work with from those we wish would go work for a competitor.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number One: The simplest thing you can do right now to be easy to work with is to put all of your contact information in your email salutation in a format that can be easily copied and pasted or called from a cell phone, aka not an image.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Two; Update your out-of-office message when you return from a trip.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Three: Accept and deny meeting requests when you receive them, even if you’re not sure you’ll be able to attend. Knowing who can and can’t attend helps the meeting organizer plan. You can always update your status if something changes.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Four: Reply to emails within 48-hours, even if you don’t have the information for which you’re being asked. Tell people you got their message and when they can expect to receive the information they asked for.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Five: Don’t gossip. I could say a lot about this, but you don’t have time to read it. So I won’t. I’ll leave it at this, don’t talk about other people when they’re not present and you’ll be someone people will line up to work with.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Six: Do the things you say you will do, when you say you will do them. When you realize you can’t keep a commitment, tell people as soon as you know, so they can plan. Most of us don’t want to admit that we’re going to miss a deadline, so we wait until the 11th hour to tell the people who will be impacted. Waiting to renegotiate a deadline puts people in a worse position than telling people as soon as you know.

How to Be Easy to Work with Tip Number Seven: Avoid doing the things that you know annoy others. I’ll get us started with a list of the things that most commonly annoy people at work. Please add a comment to the blog with all the things I missed. It will be fun! Sanctioned venting. Who can turn that down?

  • Leaving dishes in the sink like mommy works there
  • Taking phone calls from a cubicle via speaker phone
  • Almost finishing a pot of coffee, but not making more
  • Listening to music and videos without headphones from your desk
  • Having lots of regular visitors or loud phone conversations from your cubicle
  • Surfing the internet versus working
  • Leaving your alerts on your cell phone, so everyone in your vicinity knows each time you get a text message

I could go on, but I’ll leave the rest to you. Add a comment with the simple things people can start or stop doing to be easy to work with!

easy to work with


How to Handle Customer Complaints

dealing with complainers

No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.

One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during any decent customer service training class is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.

Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.

Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:

How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.

How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.

How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for his experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean he is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry he had the experience he did.That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”

How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”

How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand his complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands his concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)

How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.

How to handle customer complaints tip #7:  Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, in any. People like to know that they’re complaints aren’t wasted.

How to handle customer complaints tip #8:  Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.

The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.

dealing with complainers


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