5 scenario-based team leader interview questions and answers

Updated 5 June 2023

As a team leader you can expect to encounter and resolve a variety of situations in your daily work. To determine your ability to resolve conflict or face challenges, interviewers may ask you scenario-based questions that expose how you think and behave. Reviewing sample questions helps you understand what to expect from scenario-based questions and to prepare for this kind of interview. In this article, we present five scenario-based team leader interview questions, explain why hiring managers ask them and provide sample answers, which you can use as inspiration to prepare for your interview.

What are scenario-based team leader interview questions?

Scenario-based team leader interview questions are situational questions that require you to think about hypothetical workplace situations. When an interviewer asks you questions of this type, they expect you to describe how you might respond to this kind of situation in the future. An effective strategy to answer is to give examples of similar situations you've encountered in the past. You can also use the STAR method to describe the situation, explain your task, discuss the action you took and share the results of that action.

Related: How to use the STAR interview technique in interviews

5 scenario-based interview questions for team leaders

Scenario-based questions are usually hypothetical, case study and problem-solving questions that interviewers ask to uncover your key leadership qualities and learn about your expertise. Here are five scenario-based questions you could be asked in a team leader interview:

1. What would you do if a member of your team was struggling to resolve a mistake?

Asking this question allows interviewers to see if you can approach mistakes that others make with empathy and understanding. As a leader, offering your team continuous support is a key goal to build trust and improve team dynamics. To answer the question, explain how you typically address team members' mistakes by discussing a specific example.

Example: 'Both as a leader and employee, I realise that anyone can make mistakes from time to time. Even when they don't know how to fix them, it's their willingness to learn that counts. One time, a team member I managed accidentally deleted a master file which the entire team used to work on a project that was due the next day. Because they were the last person in the office, they couldn't ask anyone for advice which limited the work the team were able to do the next morning.

Luckily, I had made a copy of the master file, which I secured separately on my computer. After replacing the file, I invited the person who had made the mistake to my office and listened to their version of their story. Because this was the first time something like this had happened to them, I knew it was an accident. I made sure not to get angry or aggressive. Instead, I expressed that this could've happened to anyone. To ensure this didn't happen again, I provided the team with supplementary risk-management IT training that the organisation's IT security department conducted.'

Related: 52 team leader interview questions and answers

2. Imagine you're working on a project and encounter a challenge for which you have a solution, but the majority of the team disagrees with it. How do you handle that?

This question tests your leadership skills. How you answer shows if you can position yourself as an influential and fair manager. To answer, explain your thought process and what you may do to ensure the team chooses the best solution that benefits the organisation.

Example: 'I know that some disagreements can lead to new, brilliant ideas. Whenever team members disagree with me, I make sure to understand their perspective. Even if the solution I propose is a process we've used dozens of times, new perspectives can always improve it. If the majority of the team disagree with me, I'd make sure to redirect the meeting to listen to their input while still guiding the discussion to re-establish my position as the leader. If, objectively, the solution they proposed was better for the entire team or organisation, I'd happily use it.'

Related: Conflict resolution interview questions (with sample answers)

3. You discover that one of your team members is taking office supplies to use at home for non-work related purposes. How do you deal with this?

Discovering and confronting situations like these can be uncomfortable. Addressing it as quickly as possible shows that you prioritise the organisation's well-being, as even on a small scale this activity may lead to additional costs for the employer. To answer the question, describe the steps you might take to handle the situation.

Example: 'Once this came to my attention, I would start by contacting a legal counsel to discuss the appropriate next steps. In my previous management job, I encountered this problem. After detecting what was happening and who was responsible, I confronted the person by asking them directly about the problem. I made sure not to sound judgemental.

Instead, I showed my concern, as I know that some people may be in difficult circumstances that can influence their behaviour. Thanks to this approach, the person immediately admitted to taking office supplies home out of convenience. I explained that this was inappropriate and reminded them of the disciplinary steps the organisation requires me to take if the situation continues. Luckily, this helped, and the person even voluntarily paid for the supplies they took home.'

Related: 8 ethical issues in business and how to manage them

4. Tell me about a time when your team was unmotivated and how you inspired team members to help them get through that period.

Asking this question shows interviewers if you can use effective motivation techniques when your team is struggling with completing work or finding inspiration. To answer the question, describe some methods you've used to motivate someone other than yourself. Explain how your intervention has helped a team you've managed.

Example: 'I have a recent example of when and how I used motivation to help a team complete work. During the last few weeks of working for my previous employer, one of my team struggled with completing a project for which the entire team was responsible. I scheduled a one-on-one meeting with them and asked them directly about the problem and if there was anything I could do to help them find motivation to finish their work. The person said that they felt the work they were doing was meaningless.

To tackle this, I explained how important the project was to everyone on the team. Based on the conversation we had, the person simply wanted recognition and to see that what they were doing was benefitting others. To motivate them, I proposed a deal that if they managed to deliver the work before the deadline, I'd award them an internal recognition title for the upcoming month. This helped, and we completed the project on time. During the next team meeting, I verbally recognised the team's efforts and emphasised that person's contributions by nominating them for the title, which they received.'

Related: 13 employee recognition ideas to make your team feel valued

5. What would you do if the work that a team member delivered wasn't up to your or the employer's expectations?

As a manager, it's your responsibility to make sure each person you manage meets their role's objectives, as this contributes to the entire team's success. When you hear this question during an interview, explain to the interviewers what you can do to address the issue immediately. You may also share some strategies to help the person who is underperforming.

Example: 'I've faced this kind of issue a few times in my role as a team leader. The first time I encountered this kind of problem, I confronted the person to discuss their poor performance, and I noticed that this made them more upset. Every other time, instead of discussing the negatives, I asked people to perform self-evaluations first, as this allowed them to look at their work from a different perspective.

Then, I'd schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss the evaluation. After starting the meeting by discussing what they're doing right, I proceeded to analyse the cause of their underperformance in specific areas of work. Depending on the situation, I sometimes provided the person with supplementary training or gave them more time to complete specific tasks which are problematic to them.'

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