The Question Box: Exploring Teamwork

A colleague working in a think tank faced a knotty challenge: how to lead a conversation about a team’s attitude to collaboration and teamwork, when she herself was a part of that team.

The activity formed part of an away day and the session was set to last ninety minutes. I worked with my colleague to devise activities that would prompt frank and constructive conversations, free her from the role of facilitator, and create space for imaginative new ideas to surface.

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The Question Box

The core activity we came up with was a series of questions or challenges written on cue cards, to be drawn from a box. Like the Presenterless Workshops activity, this encourages participants to take charge of the discussion and gives them freedom in how they approach the topic.

The participants receive a box containing around a dozen questions relating to teamwork.

My colleague and I brainstormed a large number of questions individually, then compared our ideas, and whittled them down to these:

  • What’s the best team you have ever been a part of (in or outside of a work context)? What made it so good?
  • What’s the worst team you have ever been a part of (in or outside of a work context)? What did you do about it?
  • When do you prefer working alone?
  • When do you prefer working with other people?
  • What do leaders need from team members?
  • What do you need from a team leader?
  • What do you need from a teammate?
  • What strengths do you as an individual bring to our team?
  • What makes us a team, as opposed to individuals working alongside each other?
  • Apart from our team, which is the best team in our organisation? What makes them so good?
  • What can our team offer our organisation, and its partners?
  • What challenges do we face in working as a team?
  • Describe our team in three words. What word would you like to change?
  • What external factors affect our teamwork?

At the bottom of the box, underneath the question cards, was one more prompt, written on a distinctive, larger, and boldly printed card: 

  • What do we need to change about our team? How are going to do it?

In addition, we wanted to create extra space for participants’ own questions and concerns. Therefore, we decided that as part of the icebreaker for this session, participants would be invited to write a single question they had about teamwork on a cue card, without being told why. This would later be added to the Question Box.

Once the box was opened, the team – including my colleague, the facilitator – had thirty minutes to examine its contents, and decide collectively how to respond to the prompts inside. Materials were provided for them to create a product or record of their discussions and decisions, and the larger final card suggested an overall shape for the discussion.

My colleague then took over the facilitation role, shaping the discussion into a conclusion with practical outcomes by asking more focussed questions – “What do we need to change about our team and how are we going to do it?”, “What should we stop/start/keep doing as a team?” – which were recorded on wall charts.

The concluding discussion focussed on means of collaboration, use of team time in meetings, and ways of supporting the team even when not directly working on a project together.

You can download a how-to PDF for the Question Box under a Creative Commons licence here, and explore more decentered ways of working in team discussions and workshops at this site, including:

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