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Table 1 Considerations and requirements for using circular questions during debriefings

From: How to debrief teamwork interactions: using circular questions to explore and change team interaction patterns

Considerations and requirement


Psychologically safe learning environment

Rudolph and colleagues have suggested a number of actions the instructor can take at the pre-briefing to establish a respectful and psychologically safe learning environment: for example clarifying mutual expectations, establishing a “fiction contract,” orienting to logistic details, and explicitly declaring and enacting a commitment to respecting learners and concern for their psychological safety [49].

Holding the learner in high regard

The “basic assumption,” as noted by Rudolph and colleagues, is an explicit statement to hold the learner in high regard: considering every participating learner intelligent, capable, doing their best, and wanting to improve [8].

Systemic assumptions about teamwork

Instructors benefit from (1) formulating hypotheses about team interaction patterns (hypothesizing), (2) investigating these hypotheses based on reactions of the team to information about aspects such as meaning, difference, change, etc. (circularity), and (3) triggering feedback and inquiring opinions rather than allying with specific team members (multipartiality) [1, 41].


As circular questions can be unfamiliar to the instructors and learners, previewing them to explicitly orientate the learners to this method may enhance understanding and transparency. For example, “I’d like to understand you more and would like to ask you an unfamiliar type of question: …” [50, 56].

Balancing advocacy and inquiry

If circular questions are used excessively, the instructor becomes impalpable to the learners and they might get frustrated from lack of direction and disengage from the debriefing [52]. Learners will not only need to perceive the instructor as someone trustworthy but also as someone who is willing to share his or her thinking, point of view, and expertise [2, 9, 50].