It’s pretty amazing the things we can accomplish when we come together and apply our unique talents and skills as a team. That’s what gives companies their competitive advantage and how companies succeed. That’s the power of teams and teamwork.
Coming together alone, however, isn’t enough to get the job done. And how do you even get your team to come together if they don’t feel connected to their teammates—if they don’t feel like they belong?
A [Harvard Business Review survey found that 39% of respondents felt the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues checked in with them, both personally and professionally. The same article also included research from the Center for Talent Innovation that stated people are more productive, motivated, engaged, and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential when they feel like they belong.
Is that any surprise?
Relationships, both personal and professional, require conscious effort. At work, just like in our personal lives, we have to build trust with the people around us (our colleagues). Managers have an important role to play, too. A TINYpulse report found that 93% of employees surveyed believe trust in their direct supervisor was the most important factor in workplace satisfaction. In other words, your team members need to get to know you, too.
It’s a leader’s most important responsibility to build trust on a team. Without trust, a team can’t collaborate and can’t achieve their goals.
So let’s prioritize trust and team-building. In this piece, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite team-building questions from Range, why I like them, and how they helped me learn something new about my teammates. But before I do that I want to first make sure we’re both on the same page about why team-build questions, or icebreakers, are so important.
The importance of team-building questions: Making time to grow together as a team
Team-building activities like bringing your team together to make wood-fired pizza or complete a ropes course is a great way to jumpstart or restart team-building, but these activities alone are not how a foundation of trust will be established. Believe it or not, icebreakers—those sometimes awkward questions you remember answering during conference breakout sessions, orientations, and onboardings—can help you and your team make great strides in establishing the connections that underlie great teams.
That’s why the Range team created Icebreaker. It’s a free online tool with over 200 team-building questions designed to build trust, connectedness, and psychological safety. Start one of your next team meetings with Icebreaker and see what you and your team learn about each other.
But we’ve known about the team-building power of icebreaker questions for some time. Daily team-building questions are built into Range, and it’s just about everyone’s favorite part about checking in and sharing an update each day.
These questions are so powerful because they provide team members an opportunity to share small pieces of themselves. (This is how we begin to build trust.) Over time, these pieces begin to paint a more complete picture of the unique individuals around us. And only by better understanding the people we work with can we hope to function as healthy, high-performing teams.
My 7 favorite Icebreaker questions and how they’ve brought me closer to my teammates
So here they are, the icebreakers and team-building questions. The common thread you’ll find running through each of these questions is that they each require a level of introspection. They will ask you and your teammates to share a tiny bit of yourselves you might not have considered sharing before or that you even thought relevant to the team and the work you’re doing. It’s this act of vulnerability that makes answering these seemingly simple questions so powerful.
Let’s start with a couple of easy ones and then increase the difficulty.
1. Kids today will never understand the struggle of what?
- Why I like this team-building question: Talk about nostalgia. This question is so much fun, and it’s a great one for bringing a little excitement and laughter to the start of a day or meeting. I thought back to my childhood — dial-up internet, floppy disks, and trying to record mixtapes from the radio — and the frustrations from my morning commute just disappeared.
- What I learned about my teammates: I couldn’t wait to see how my teammates answered this question, and I wasn’t disappointed. I got a tiny glimpse into what my coworkers enjoyed or what they were like in their youth, and that told me a little about what they might enjoy today as adults. Someone who remembers waiting 30 minutes for a computer game to load might enjoy a nearby game story as a venue for our next one-on-one meeting.
2. What’s the furthest away from home you’ve ever been?
- Why I like this team-building question: I went straight to a map to answer this question for myself, but this question isn’t one that has to be answered literally (based on physical distance). It’s up for interpretation — physical, psychological, or experiential distance — and that’s why I like this question so much.
- What I learned about my teammates: “What is home?” someone asked. It sounds a bit flippant, but think about it. In the context of this question, how do you define home, and then how do you choose to interpret distance? Say San Francisco is home. Are you further away from home 6,000 miles away in Sydney (a place where you can easily navigate daily life thanks to a common language) or 3,000 miles away in a small village where communicating is a daily struggle?
3. When looking back at your youth, what was your silliest fear?
- Why I like this team-building question: Some of my silliest fears as a kid are still going strong today well into adulthood. (I’m not afraid of the dark. You are!) Humans aren’t designed to be rational. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that the people around us are human, too. That sameness between teammates is what this question begins to explore.
- What I learned about my teammates: While I expected to read a response or two about ghosts, I was surprised to see that some of my colleagues took this team-building question as an opportunity to be vulnerable. Being different as a child is rarely a good thing. It’s a very real fear many of us harbored. But as adults, being different is what makes us who we are and life interesting. I loved learning about my colleagues' personal growth here, and these responses were yet another point of commonality and connection we shared.
4. How do you recognize when you’re stressed?
- Why I like this team-building question: The ways in which stress manifests with each of us and how we manage that stress has a direct impact on our team and its success. It is, of course, important for us to be able to recognize when we are ourselves stressed, but sometimes we miss the signs. So imagine if your coworkers knew when your stress levels were beginning to rise and could help you prevent the impending hair pulling altogether.
- What I learned about my teammates: When stress is on the horizon, some of us vigorously plan, some take a walk, and some make time to talk. This question helped me understand how I can best help my teammates during times of high stress. Maybe I’ll suggest a walk and talk with one of my coworkers later this week.
5. What is a passion of yours you’ve yet to act on?
- Why I like this team-building question: A seemingly simple question, this is an opportunity to share with your team some of the side projects you have (or wish you had) worked on over the years. If working to live wasn’t a necessity, what else might you be doing with your time? At the very least, sharing your passions with your teammates will hopefully ensure you start receiving better gifts from them on special occasions.
- What I learned about my teammates: A few someones on your team are going to surprise you when you hear their answers to this question. I learned a lot about my teammates: what activities calm or center them; what issues or causes are important to them; and what they might be doing as an alternative career if they had the time. That last learning, in particular, made me think about how my coworkers might be able to tap into their passions through the work we do as a team. How might we be able to make work even more interesting for them?
6. Looking back, what do you admire most about your childhood self?
- Why I like this team-building question: Get ready for even more introspection and vulnerability with this one. What I like about this question is that it prompted me to think about the person I once was, who I am today, and who I want to be. What qualities did I like about my younger self that I wish I exhibited today? And, if I could do it then, why not now? Perhaps my teammates might even see something in me I didn’t realize was still there.
- What I learned about my teammates: So many of our responses were so similar. That genuinely surprised me. As kids we were more confident, more fearless, and more carefree. But I thought the rest of my team charted much higher in these areas than me. Through this almost unconscious act of vulnerability, I learned that my teammates struggle with some of the same insecurities as me. We’re all still growing, and through this question I learned we’re growing together.
7. What’s one misunderstanding that’s happened on your team recently? How was it resolved?
- Why I like this team-building question: This one’s a doozy, or at least it can be. In one response, honesty, vulnerability, and introspection were all being asked of me. And to top it off, I had to do all of that while talking about a misunderstanding — How do I even define that? — between myself and a team member (not just someone at my company). But that’s the mark of a strong team: a foundation of trust and understanding that allows you to openly discuss and work through your misunderstandings, small or large.
- What I learned about my teammates: I found the responses of my team ran the gamut when it came to scale of the misunderstandings they described. In some instances, a review of someone’s progress was enough to resolve a small misunderstanding about a product design element. In another, an intense and perhaps difficult conversation was required to work through roles in meetings, gender dynamics, and how teammates interacted with one another. In the end, working through these misunderstandings — or conflicts — helped us all show up more as a team.
While building trust on a team does require intention, it doesn’t have to mean huge behavioral shifts or expensive team off-sites. Instead, you can do small activities with your team each day that build trust over time.
The right questions can prompt very real and very powerful shifts in the ways we think and the dynamics of our teams. Team-building questions aren’t all about posing deep philosophical questions; they’re about being open and honest. That’s how you get to know your team. Even the silliest questions can help members of your team open up, share more of themselves, and bring everyone closer together.
To start using those 7 team-building questions and over 200 more, check out Icebreaker. And if you’re looking to start prioritizing team- and trust-building, check out what we’re doing at Range.