Blog, Leadership, Team Leadership - Posted on January 4, 2015 - by Bob

Ask, Don't Tell, to Find Team-Engine-Generated Solutions

Seek team-engine-generated solutions
Seek team-engine-generated solutions

Communication plays a big part in facilitating outcomes. The most important communication skill in team leadership is asking questions and listening to the answers. Questions contribute to a self-discovery process, which is a buy-in process.

The leader asks the team, or team members, questions that lead them to discover their own solutions. Team members must come up with the answers themselves—you can’t tell them, as they must own those answers. You just have to know what questions need to be asked in order to get the answers you are seeking.

Let’s first understand why you should be asking questions. By asking questions you not only learn a lot, you uncover needs, you make the other person feel important, and that contributes towards building an empowering relationship.

[Tweet “Asking, followed by listening, says others matter. “]

The key reason for leaders to ask questions in this exercise is to engage and help further solutions to which team members take ownership and share responsibility.

It is always the person who is asking the questions that is leading the conversation. The person who is answering the questions thinks they are leading, but in reality they are not. It is the leader’s responsibility to facilitate the process, but it is the team player who takes ownership of the answers to the questions asked.

Keep the focus on them, not you —70 percent of the time you should be listening and 30 percent of the time you should be asking questions. When you add up the two, that equals 100 percent. In other words, you should never be telling or talking!

If you were to master this rule, you would have a more engaged and empowered team. Your job as a leader is to establish and maintain rapport and trust with each of your team members. To get them talking, keep them talking and then direct questions to them that will lead them to where you want to go while you gather more information and facts.

But first, where is it that you want to go? What is your objective? You need to answer this question before you proceed.

Types of Questions and Why You Should Use Them

Before we go any further, let’s understand the types of questions that can be used and why. Let’s start with how you can use open-ended questions to your advantage.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions begin with what, how, who, why, and where.


  • To allow people to feel a greater sense of participation in an interview or meeting
  • To give the discussion a more conversational tone
  • To encourage people to respond at length
  • Not only useful as fact-finding, but also uncovers underlying attitudes, opinions and feelings
  • To help team members clarify their thinking
  • To help team members to identify and verbalize their own needs
  • To provide you with information that you can paraphrase

Some examples of open-ended questions are as follows:

  • How does this affect our business?
  • What is it you like about brand X?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • Why do you say that?

Take the time to generate open-ended questions that will be useful in your team member interviews and meetings, starting with the first question that you would use when you meet up with them.

This is a very important exercise and it is recommended that you work on establishing open-ended questions before moving on to directing questions.

You can always tell when you have established rapport just by noticing how much the team player starts to open up to you–it is as if they will never stop talking. This is your job as a leader: to establish rapport, get everyone talking, and keep them progressing forward in a way that will lead them to where you want them to be, while gathering more information and facts.

But as mentioned earlier, where is it that you want to go? What is the objective of this interview or meeting? You need to answer these questions before you proceed.

Directing questions

Occasionally, you need to point the team in a particular direction–a direction that will provide new information in areas of specific interest to you.

The purpose of asking directing questions is to stimulate thinking in new directions.

This will cause the team to evaluate the consequences of not acting, or to force a reply that you wish to hear, or to force a choice in order to help you guide the discussion in the right direction.

Some examples of directing questions are as follows:

  • What would happen if….?
  • What would happen if you didn’t…?
  • So, you think it would be wise to…?
  • Do you prefer…?

Take the time to generate some directing questions that will be useful in your interviews or team meetings.

Fact-finding and closed-ended questions

Fact-finding and closed-ended questions are used when you need brief and to-the-point answers to gather facts, “break the ice” and set the “ground rules”. Fact-finding and closed-ended questions can also be used to attract the attention of someone unwilling to talk, or to refocus the conversation, and to check for a degree of understanding or interest, or to confirm an agreement.

Some examples of yes or no closed-ended questions are as follows

  • Would this plan meet our needs?
  • Do you want to move forward in that direction?

Some examples of fact-finding close-ended questions are as follows:

  • How many people would it take to implement the plan?
  • What suppliers should we consider?

Take the time to generate some fact-finding and closed-ended questions that will be useful in your interview.

This subject  is covered under preparing to lead a team effectiveness meeting in my latest book, Motivate Your Team in 30 Days.  Get your free 20-page excerpt .

Bob Urichuck

Bob Urichuck is an internationally sought after speaker, trainer—founder of the “Buyer Focused” Velocity Selling System—and best-selling author in six languages. His latest books, Velocity Selling: How to Attract, Engage and Empower Buyers to Buy, and Motivate Your Team in 30 Days are new in 2014.

Sales Velocity.  Your Bottom Line.  Our Passion


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