I was in an elevator going to the 10th floor when two people entered, bitterly commenting on the bad attitude of a co-worker. I overheard their conversation and it was clear they expected the manager to resolve what was affecting their colleague and the performance of the entire team.

The concerns, motivations, or problems of each team member, as well as the challenges and obstacles they face, affect everyone. Consequently, every leader should be aware of them.

It didn’t look like an easy task for that manager to get this person to change their attitude quickly and be happy and motivated to fulfill their responsibilities.

Thinking about this case and the ability to handle situations like these – and hopefully prevent them – I remembered a simple but very effective practice that we highly recommend when conducting leadership coaching.

To become aware of team members’ concerns, motivations, problems as well as their challenges and obstacles, leaders should frequently ask three fundamental questions of each team member. These questions help teams to understand and improve everyone’s relationship with their work, encouraging commitment to the organization and common purpose. They also help the team to improve, grow and develop.

What challenge are you facing?

The answer to what challenges a team member is facing can tell us how the person feels, how they’re handling what they consider a challenge, and if they see it as a problem or as an opportunity. And we will clearly see where their concerns or motivations come from.

What problem or difficulty do you have in dealing with this challenge?

The second question attempts to get to the heart of the problem by asking what makes something a challenge. Sometimes these difficulties can be relatively easy to solve. But people can be embarrassed to be asked about them, perhaps because no one has listened or shown interest in helping before.

When dealing with major issues, the sooner we know about them and get to work resolving them, the better.

How can I help you?

This last question is very important and produces a sense of security and confidence in our team members. When a manager asks, “how can I help you,” employees begin to realize that their leader is willing to take charge of and solve problems. Very few managers do this.

The most important thing is that by listening to what our people need, we can really begin to help them.

Don’t just ask once

It is vitally important to meet with our teams and ask them these questions with relative frequency. This helps us to be much better managers and leaders. It is an opportunity to strengthen the bonds we have with our team and to genuinely help them in their development by learning what goes through their head and heart.