We’ve all been there – back to back calls, formulaic team meetings, transactional 121s, even after work drinks that leave us uninspired. But what if we replaced even just one question like the bland “How are things?” that so often elicits a monosyllabic “Fine” or “Good with, what we like to call, a “High Definition” question? Imagine, fellow leaders and managers, if you had seven such questions, that will not only make your team members spill the beans but will also stimulate their brains AND have you all chuckling and connecting in no time! Take them out for a test drive in your next team meeting, 121 or after work drinks.

  1. “If You Could have Swapped Places with a colleague today, Who Would it Be and Why?”

    Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario! This question not only encourages your team members’ imagination but also gets them thinking about their colleagues in a fun and playful way. You might even learn something new about their workplace dynamics or interests. This question not only stimulates imagination but also their analytical thinking, as your team member considers the cognitive differences between themselves and their colleagues.

  2. “If Your Boss Suddenly Turned into an Animal, What Animal Would They Be?”

    Ah, the age-old question of what your boss would be as an animal!! If you’re the boss then give them permission to play! You could even demonstrate by sharing which animal your boss would be! This question is bound to elicit a laugh or two as they picture the boss as a koala or a chameleon. It’s also a great way to gauge your team member’s feelings about their senior leadership. Imaginative scenarios like this engage the brain’s capacity for creative thinking and problem-solving, leading to amusing mental imagery.

            NB: Substitute ‘Boss’ with ’Client’ or “Stakeholder if this one is too close to the bone!’

  1. “What was unexpected about today?”

    Inviting your team member to share the unexpected twists and turns of their day encourages them to reflect on moments that took them by surprise, whether it was a sudden change in the weather or an unexpected turn of events during a project. By exploring the unexpected, you’re delving into their brain’s capacity to adapt and react to new situations, like a seasoned explorer charting uncharted territories. It’s a journey through curiosity and adaptability, where each unexpected event becomes a delightful detour on the road of learning and connection!!

  2. “If You Could Add One Rule to the Workplace, What Would It Be?”

    Time to let your team member’s inner rule-maker shine! You might be in for some creative and hilarious suggestions, like “Free coffee every day” or more deliberate suggestions like “No internal meetings on a Wednesday.” Who knows, maybe they have a future in HR or senior management! Encouraging your team member to create a new rule engages their brain’s executive function, fostering decision-making and planning skills.

  3. “What’s the Funniest Thing That Happened Today?”

    Humor is a great way to connect and get your team members talking. Encourage them to share a funny anecdote from their day. Whether it’s a quirky client moment or a hilarious mishap at home, you’re guaranteed to learn more about their workday AND get a good chuckle. As a bonus, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which not only make you and your teams feel good but also enhance memory and bonding.

  4. “If You Could Have Lunch with Any Fictional Character, Who Would It Be and Why?”

    This question taps into your team member’s love for stories and imagination. Whether they choose Sherlock Holmes or SpongeBob SquarePants, their answer will give you insight into their favorite books, shows, and movies. Plus, you might learn about some cool characters you’ve never heard of! You’ll also be activating their brain’s storytelling abilities, promoting narrative thinking and creativity.

  5. “If You Could Teach the Boss something new, What Would It Be?”

    Turn the tables on your team members and make them the boss for a moment! This question encourages critical thinking and allows your team members to reflect on their own interests, passions and expertise. Maybe they’d teach him/ her a new tech shortcut or share how to say Thank you in multiple languages. Encouraging your team to take on a teaching role stimulates their brain’s mirror neuron system, fostering empathy and social awareness.

So there you have it – seven unexpected questions to ask your team members that don’t include the dreaded “How are things?” With a little practice, before you know it, you’ll have your team members talking, laughing, and sharing their work experiences like never before. Who knew that swapping places with colleagues and turning bosses into animals could be so much fun AND so good for their brains? This hybrid world through your team member’s eyes is a playground of endless possibilities, and together, you’re exploring the fabulous nooks and crannies of their innate wisdom. Happy chatting, intrepid leaders and managers, and may your team chats be filled with laughter, wonder, and whimsy.

More for the curious:

If you are a parent as well as a leader/manager, reread those questions now? How could you use them instead of the dreaded “How was school today” For more on how to get your kids talking after school go here.