Leaders, Are You Asking the Wrong Question?

Guest Post by James Carter

There is a question I have been asked well over 1,000 times throughout my years of guiding leaders. Okay, I am embellishing here, but it seems like that many.

Just today I was asked the question again and thought I would share it with you.  Perhaps you have the same question.

The WRONG question is some variation of:

“What can I do to help my people be a better team?”

What can possibly be wrong with that question? It SEEMS right, is holding myself accountable as the leader… and it is not a terrible place to start questioning, just a terrible place to end.

And after all, you are the leader so you are responsible for building the team. Right? Actually, no. Your role is to provide direction and to create the framework for teams to build and grow. Most people already want to be part of a great team, be part of something larger than themselves. Keep obstacles out of the way, streamline communication and other systems and most teams will grow naturally. When that occurs, ‘team building’ is like water to a flower and the team will grow a bit bigger and faster.

Most leaders I meet are wanting to do the best for their people and help them. That’s awesome! Unfortunately, your giving nature works against you here and is leading you to ask that wrong question.

Let’s look at the original question and see where we end up:


What can I do to help my people be a better team?


I could get everyone together to talk about what being a team means, how working together as a team will help everyone, make our work more fun and increase our results. And we should have some games or activities to break the ice and get everyone moving… What about lunch too?

The answer is obvious – a ‘Team building program’ that lasts for hours or event ALL day! Let’s all get together, play some games, talk about some stuff and make some changes. This may be a fun time and even some great bonding, but has not addressed underlying obstacles for a team to emerge.  Nothing real happens and trust in ‘team building’ takes another hit.

Now, let me be clear here. The above solution is perfectly valid for certain situations once you have cleared away obstacles or barriers. Even with barriers in place it *may* work in the short term. Everything will be better for a little while until we go back to the way things were before.

It was not until we ran hundreds of these ‘workshops’ in one company that we realized, ‘Holy crap, there has been almost NO substantial change in these work groups after a couple of months!’ How can so many people NOT be doing what they agreed.

If the majority of people are behaving a certain way the majority of the time, it is NOT a people problem.

Before we began that project with hundreds of workshops, we neglected to ask an important question – the RIGHT question.

The RIGHT question to ask is:

“What is preventing these people from being a team already?

The questions are similar but will lead to different answers.

The first question, “What can I do…” keeps the focus on you.

The second question focuses on them.

If you want to build a team as a leader, you must focus on them.

In a recent case, one new high profile team in an insurance company started off with a big bang and hooplah. This was the Dream Team that was going to make substantial changes to the culture within the organization.

After about 6 months, the team had fizzled. My company, Be Legendary, was called to come in and run a… YES, ‘Team Building Program’!

However, we were now armed with the RIGHT question. Initially the executives refused to answer the right question, insisting they absolutely knew that team building was the right approach.

However, we persisted and after asking the RIGHT question, there were several challenges. The most glaring was the physical structure of the team. While everyone on the team was in the same building, they were spread over 6 different floors and 51 floors apart. So, someone on the 6th floor may have to go up to the 67th floor to speak to someone in person. Which they did not do, of course, so you ended up with a virtual team who had not set themselves up as a virtual team.

With a highly secretive, not to be named, government client, we were asked to work on collaboration, “We want you to come in and run 45 team building workshops that focus on collaboration and sharing of best ideas.” We didn’t ask questions (are you starting to see a pattern here?).

It was an absolute disaster. Insurance conventions, going to the dentist, having a tax audit – these are all more pleasant than the days I spent with these government employees. In the middle of Day 3 I stopped what I was doing and just told them to give it to me straight, “Why won’t you people talk? Talk to me, talk to each other, just talk to someone!” Well, turns out what we were asking them to do – share information for example – they would be thrown into prison for a VERY long time. It was a felony for them to collaborate the way the executives wanted them to! Houston, we have a problem. That contract was 45 days at $7,500 a day in the second year of my brand new business. And I had to walk away from it after three days. If only I had asked the right question we could have built a different kind of workshop.

I could tell story after story just like the two above but I won’t because they are just sad, very sad. The good news is that we have learned to take our time and be sure to ask good questions.

The power of the answer is in asking the right questions. As leaders, it is very important to be sure we are taking the time to quiet our mind against the whirlwind of the day and focus on the right question that will lead to the right solution.

By the way, I still LOVE team building (and capitalizing words for emphasis, OBVIOUSLY) and I hope you do too, but please, please, please, ask lots of questions, the right questions and if you are not quite sure what those questions are, just get in touch!

In the meantime, take great care to ensure you are asking the right question about your particular problem.

The right answer, the right solution and your success, depends upon it!

James Carter


James Carter is the Founder & CEO of Be Legendary, a company using data-driven predictive analysis to enhance and inspire leaders to challenge the status quo and change this world for the better.


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