Debriefing Questions are the Magic of Team Building Events

top_hat_magic_questionsHave you ever seen a magician pull a rabbit out of his or her hat?

That rabbit was there all along – but the magician likely went through a very entertaining or even interactive set of activities and comments that led up to the moment the rabbit actually appeared.

Team building activities are certainly entertaining and interactive, but they only become worthwhile and impactful if they are followed by debriefing questions. Much like the magician would tell you, the rabbit only appears if someone reaches in and pulls it out.

Debriefing questions are the part of your team building event where your facilitator helps your people to pull out their rabbits.

These discussions provide an opportunity for your people to reflect on their team building activity andmake it meaningful by acknowledging what was learned about themselves, about others, and about their interactions – and then identify how those lessons can be applied to improve their leadership or listening or collaborative skills in the future.

A facilitated debriefing discussion is a powerful part of the team building process, and should follow the completion of each separate activity or group challenge. An experienced facilitator will lead your participants through more than just the experience of an activity by itself. The magic of a true team building activity is in the thought provoking and safe discussions that are produced by meaningful questions that connect their experiences to relevant issues or team improvement needs.

A more mature group will often begin to lead their own discussion with relatively little prompting from the facilitator, and can find many insightful connections or meaning from an experience.

Less established groups, or those that may not yet have established a safe level of trust, may require more time or encouragement to reach similar “A-Ha” moments. With either type of group, the goal of debriefing discussions is to help them find personal and relevant conclusions by reflecting on their experiences and considering its applications.

Your debriefing questions will generally follow a sequence of: what, so what, and now what.


For virtually any and all team building activities, you can begin with these questions to focus on the activity and participant experiences:

1. Describe your experience – what happened?

2. Can you be more specific, or explain it another way?

3. Why were you successful (or not)?


Following the discussion of “what happened,” you can then move on to finding value or insights from the experience by using these or similar questions:

1. What is the number one take-away from this?

2. How were differences in opinion handled?

3. What did you discover about yourself during the activity?


Following the “so what?” discussion, you should be able to flow smoothly into questions that apply those ideas to future projects or interactions:

1. How is this like something that occurs in our workplace?

2. What does this activity suggest about our daily actions at work?

3. What will we do differently as a result of our insights?


In addition to the popular formula of what, so what, and now what, your facilitator may also employ a few other strategies for helping your people draw out a few rabbits of their own.

Perhaps he / she will ask some of the participants to be observers, and provide them a task or question such as sharing what they noticed that perhaps the participants did not…\

Perhaps the facilitator will allow each participant to make notes on index cards to assist them in processing their thoughts, or to write down ideas when they are paired together in dyads for small-group conversations prior to a whole group discussion…

Perhaps he / she will bring a “koosh” ball or funny object to toss around, so that participants can answer a predetermined question or can share a thought when they catch it…

Regardless of the strategy used, your day will become much more than a fun experience if your facilitator helps your people to make the debriefing questions a relevant consideration of how the activities and their lessons can be applied to your specific circumstances.



1. The facilitator will encourage everyone to listen well, and will validate participant questions or comments by either expanding on or challenging them.

2. The facilitator will set no time limit for debriefs. Good discussions require time for warming up, reflection, maximum input, and closure.

3. Repeating what the participant said to help reiterate a point, or open a discussion is a useful tool that can be a catalyst for other comments.

4. The facilitator will likely try to arrange participants in a circle so they can see each other. Eye contact and “equal seating” encourages more open discussions.

5. The facilitator should pause often. Allowing quiet time is good, and allows people to think and reflect on earlier points or formulate their own thoughts on the topic.

6. If participants appear apathetic at first, the facilitator may question people by name or go around the room in a sequence.


You can easily find hundreds of team building activities online.


But the value of hiring an experienced facilitator is in knowing that your group will be led through a set of customized and relevant activities, you will have a great time laughing and working together, and most importantly you will be able to find lessons in those experiences that will help your team become more productive!

If your team could use a little magic, if they need a boost of morale, or if you would like them to become more cohesive and enjoy better relationships with each other, consider scheduling a corporate or teacher team building event for your group.

If you have questions about team building, take a look at Sean’s FAQ page.

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Please share your thoughts about debriefing discussions below…