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Manager Minute

Three Keys to Improve How Lab Staff Ask for Help

Three Keys to Improve How Lab Staff Ask for Help

The science practiced in most labs is too diverse, too complex, and too detailed to be fully mastered by individuals

We all know the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This concept is also true for labs. The science practiced in most labs is too diverse, too complex, and too detailed to be fully mastered by individuals. It takes a team to really deliver high-quality technical work. For that team to really deliver, each member needs to access the knowledge and experience from the rest of the team members. The key skill to access this knowledge is the willingness to ask for help. Some people think that asking for help is a sign of weakness, but as Wayne Baker shared in his recent book, All You Have to Do is Ask, asking for help is really a sign of strength and confidence, and is a key skill to help employees succeed. Here are three tips that will help you improve the sharing of knowledge in your lab through effective questions and requests for help.

#1 – Model the desired behavior

Lab staff are constantly monitoring the behaviors of leadership. Lab managers can demonstrate to staff that it is OK and safe to ask questions by asking questions themselves. It is important that the questions asked by management are rooted in curiosity, not pop quizzes to see if staff are knowledgeable. By asking relevant questions, really listening to the answers, and making use of the shared knowledge, lab managers can show staff the value of asking for help at work. 

#2 – Ensure safety

Some people are afraid to look foolish or ignorant in front of their peers. This concern reduces the questions they are willing to ask, and reduces the benefits they can receive from their colleagues. Lab managers can actively support staff as they ask questions, participate in the conversations, and reinforce the positive nature of asking for help.  Lab managers can also root out behaviors in staff that ridicule or mock the people who are asking the questions. This can be difficult, especially if the more senior staff are the ones misbehaving, but it is necessary to build a culture that supports asking for help.

#3 – Direct staff to the local experts

In some labs, all questions go to the manager. Lab managers can help staff get more comfortable asking questions of peers by directing them to the local experts, rather than answering all of the questions themselves. While it can feel good to be the source of help, no one can know everything important about the lab, and lab managers might find that, by redirecting some questions to others, they free up time to complete other important activities.


Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at shanton@labmanager.com. I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.