The Philosophy of Team Building – Soctratic Method


Our daily lives are full of things that keep us busy, but every now and again we find ourselves sitting back and wondering, what’s it all about. And then, we may start asking questions that normally we do not stop to ask. This can happen in any aspect of our life. People can subject any field of human activity to fundamental questioning – which is another way of saying that there can be a philosophy of anything.

The term philosophy is derived from the two greek words, philo meaning “love” and Sophos meaning “wisdom” – “Love of Wisdom”

Don’t worry, we’re not going to delve into the deeper purpose of philosophy and try to figure out the ‘meaning of life’ question, but review how philosophy can help when teaching and educating others.

The philosopher is fully committed to a truth seeking activity, trying to see below the surface of things and acquire a deeper understanding of human experiences.  The best team building facilitators, teachers or coaches use philosophic methods to engage their learners whether they are aware of it or not. When we teach team building, we use experiential learning to gain a better understanding of how teams react when faced with a challenge and how well they work together, we then explore these actions through critical questioning, gaining a better insight into what worked and what didn’t and how they can improve.

By using philosophy when teaching, participants are provided with an opportunity to reflect on performance and think with greater clarity about a subject matter or a key learning outcome. By analysing and critically thinking, your learners seek the truth on both individual and team performance, which helps when forming a conclusion on whether they were successful as a team or not.

Learning from Socrates

One of the most significant, yet most enigmatic figures in the history of philosophy is the Greek philosopher ‘Socrates’. During his time, Socrates wrote no philosophical work of his own, and we rely on the writing of his students ‘Plato’ and ‘Aristotle’ to provide information about his beliefs and teachings.

Socrates was a master interrogator and in effect, the founder of moral philosophy. He also established the method of trying to get at the truth through persistent questioning. Socrates did more than any other individual to establish the principle that everything must be open to question – there can be no cut and dried answers, because answers, like everything else are themselves are open to question.

He established at the centre of philosophy, a method known as dialectic, the method of seeking the truth through the process of question and answer. It has remained since, and is used particularly as a teaching method – which is after all what Socrates himself used it for.

This technique is used for people to re-examine what they think they already know rather than to impart new knowledge.  To be most effective, it calls for a sympathetic personal relationship between the teacher and pupil, one in which the teacher truly understands the pupils difficulties and prompts them step-by-step in the right direction. This is often called the “Socratic method”.

One of his main tactics was getting someone to agree to a definition of a word and then probe thwm with questions to make that person realise that their original definition proved inaccurate forcing them re-examine what they thought they already knew.

What makes Socrates in some ways the best known of the philosophers is that it was he who began the relentless questioning of our basic concepts that has become the key characteristic of philosophy since. He used to say that he had no positive teachings to offer, only questions to ask.

Socratic Questioning: Asking the Right Questions

“My way toward the truth is to ask the right questions.” Socrates says in Plato’s ‘Protagoras’ Socrates not only asked great questions, he also encouraged questions from others. Great questions get closer to the truth, and they also change attitudes. The aim of the Socratic method is to pursue the truth through constant analytical discussion.

Although the Socratic method seems like a clear-cut set of steps, it is however more of a general approach. Simply put, it is a way of probing into beliefs and ideas by using well-formulated questions. It is much like a young child that asks a questions then annoyingly responds ‘why’ to everything, never satisfied with the answer, albeit a more advanced version.

Okay, so how I can use this method for Team Building?

Easy. Most people do this already when reviewing a task or challenge without realising. We use questions to explore how our groups analyse and approach challenges and get them to think back on how they can improve, what they did well etc. You should still use these questions, but instead dig a little deeper and use a line of questioning to help examine answers and identify gaps in their understanding.

I watch a lot of facilitators (and instructors) review team building and activity sessions and they tell the group what they did and what they should have learnt. People still subscribe to ‘chalk and talk’ method of preaching (I meant teaching). The true value of an experience is measured by what each participant got from it, not what you hoped they did. People learn best through personal experience and self-discovery. In order to identify the true meaning of a task and what they learnt, you should be using questions to help gauge understanding and to guide your learners to the truth (their own truth). It might mean one thing to one person and another to someone else, your job is to find out what that truth is for each person and how and why they came to that conclusion. This is when true learning occurs, as individuals can then see value in the activity. Your job as a facilitator is to help them understand the ‘why’.

How to ask Questions:

If you want to ask questions just like Socrates, here are 3 key guidelines from Ronald Gross’s book, “Socrates Way”:

1) Ask great questions. Socrates says in Plato’s “Protagoras,” “My way toward the truth is to ask the right questions.” Such questions stimulate thinking and prevent arguments.  Here are a few questions to use for team building:

  • What is your analysis of the problem? What can be done to solve the problem? Why is that important? What do I need to get my end result? What will that end result mean? Why do you believe the plan will work? Why is that important?
  • What was the most important aspect of the challenge? Why was that important? How did that support your outcome?  What evidence supports that conclusion?

Not only did Socrates ask great questions, he also encouraged questions from others. Through great questions, come great answers which change attitudes and takes you one step closer to the truth.

2) Think for yourself. Socrates encouraged others to have an open mind and challenged conventional wisdom of his time – challenging conclusions solely based on authority. When in conversation, he did not accept, “what the expert says…” as a basis for the truth. He asked his dialogue partners to share their own thinking and observations and not to rely on the ideas and opinions of others. Yet, at the same time respected those who had expertise on a matter and sought to learn from them

3) Grow with friends. In Plato’s “Critias,” Socrates says “When a group of friends have enjoyed fine conversation together, you will find that suddenly something extraordinary happens. As they are speaking, it’s as if a spark ignites, passing from one speaker to another, and as it travels, it gathers strength, building into a warm and illuminating flame of mutual understanding which none of them could have achieved alone.”

For Socrates, working with others is essential for seeking a deeper truth through dialogue. Such dialogue is not about winning and losing. It is not a debate. Such conversation is collaborative and generous.


The Story of Philosophy  (Bryan Mager, 1998)
The Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy (Leonard Nelson, 1965)
Socrates Way (Ronald Gross, 2002)   



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