5 questions every great manager asks their team

When managing a team, it’s hard not to view yourself as the star. After all, your skills, drive, and talent brought you to that position, so why shouldn’t you be the one to call the shots and save the day?

As tempting as it is to dominate the field as your team’s MVP, take a look at your bench. The people you supervise may be clapping from the sidelines as you single handedly score points, but they’re missing out on an opportunity to grow their skills, pursue their ambitions, and reach their full potential.

How do you avoid this?

According to author Michael Bungay Stanier, it boils down to embracing your role as a coach, not the best player.

The ability to coach teams is what separates great managers and mediocre ones. It’s key to building trust, boosting morale, and ultimately delivering results.  

To be a more effective, coach-like manager, here are five questions Stanier says you need to start asking your team:

1. “What’s on your mind?”

The kickstarter question

Rather than diving into your talking points in your next one-on-one, start with this open-ended question.

Allowing them to set the agenda gives your direct report a chance to exercise autonomy, empowerment, and control. It also saves time by zeroing in on what’s most important, concerning, or exciting for your teammate.

Once you ask this, be sure to sit back and listen. If there’s something you feel like you need to address, wait until you get the full picture of where they think their priorities lie.

2. “What’s the real challenge here for you?”

The focus question

If you ask a direct report about the challenges facing the team, they’re likely to respond with abstract business goals.

However, if you personalize the question, you’re inviting them to contextualize the challenges in a way that’s immediately relevant to them and their specific area of expertise.

This approach also helps your teammates uncover goals that pique their interest, which can in turn inspire them to reflect, learn, and grow while solving problems.

3. “And what else?”

The deep dive question

Somebody's first answer is never their only answer — and it's rarely their best answer.

By asking “and what else?” as a follow-up, you’re giving your direct report an opportunity to think harder about a problem and potentially uncover issues they weren’t even aware of.

And if you really want to encourage deeper thinking, don’t be afraid to ask it again. And again. And maybe even one more time. The more curious you are, the more effective you are as a manager.

4. “What do you want?”

The foundational question

Think of it this way: if you needed a task done, you wouldn’t shy away from sharing what you wanted with your team. Extend the same courtesy to your direct report.

Ask them exactly what they want, then commit to providing it (within reason).

It gives your teammate a foundation for action while providing space for them to be more honest and direct.

5. “What was most valuable here for you?”

The learning question

This is a strong way to bookend any conversation since it asks your teammate to recall the key takeaways, internalize them, and then articulate them.

It’s also rooted in neuroscience. When someone mentally retrieves information to answer a question, it creates new neural pathways in the brain, which means the primary takeaways will have greater staying power.

Once they’ve replied, consider sharing your own answer as well. This will reinforce the message and build common ground with your direct report.

Want to avoid being the boss everyone hates? Join Michael Bungay Stanier’s Complete Manager Sprint, running August 15-30, 2022.

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