In Culture, Work Life

The following post is an excerpt from a new ebook authored for Give and Take by Dr. Baker called How to Ask for Help. This post is the third post in a three-part series; read the first here and the second here.  

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Have I convinced you that asking for help is fundamental to individual and team success?

Now, how can we make it easier for our teams to ask for help?

Below are five important suggestions to help you create an environment where asking for help is encouraged and supported.

  1. Be a good role model. The very best way to show your teams that it is advisable, beneficial, and advantageous to ask for help is to do it yourself. Here are some things you can ask for help on:
  • An introduction or connection to a colleague you’d like to know
  • A recommendation for a vendor or partner
  • A piece of information needed to complete a project
  • A specific skill or ability that is missing on your team
  • A personal recommendation (local restaurant, babysitter, vacation spot, holiday gift)
  • An idea or brainstorm
  • A second set of eyes on an important presentation or document
  • Volunteers to join a project or initiative you are working on
  • Answers to organizational process or policy questions.
  1. Create a team or company culture where asking for help is encouraged. Make it easy to ask for and give help by setting the tone, norms, and practices in your work environment.

Zingerman’s is a food company based in Michigan that has a made a public commitment to fostering a culture of helping and giving. It’s one thing to make giving one bullet in a statement of corporate values, but the company has found several tangible ways to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”  One is a special induction event for new managing partners where all the colleagues in attendance are asked, one by one, how they will help the new partner be successful. Any new partner who has been through that experience will no doubt have an easier time asking for help from the colleagues who have already made these public commitments. The two founders participate as well, sending a clear signal that the company expects and supports helping.

  1. Help your teams know what to ask. Many people struggle with the task of coming up with a request. In addition to the thought starters in #1, encourage your team members to focus on a current project and write down their goals for it. Take the most important goal and list the action steps and resources needed to achieve it — materials, information, data, or advice. You’ll then have a series of needs that you can frame as questions. Another tip: build up to asking for help with the big things by starting with asking for help with small things.
  2. Help your teams know how to ask. Many requests are so poorly worded that it’s difficult to respond. A well-formulated request is SMART:
  • Specific
  • Meaningful (why you need it)
  • Action-oriented (ask for something to be done)
  • Real (authentic, not made up)
  • Time-bound (when you need it)

A SMART request is easier to respond to than one that misses one or more of the five criteria.

  1. Encourage open-mindedness about the knowledge and willingness of others. Don’t assume you know who and what people know or how willing they are to help. For example, I once facilitated a Reciprocity Ring for a team working on global drug development within a large pharmaceutical company. One of the participating scientists needed a referral for an outside vendor who could help him achieve an incredibly complex and expensive laboratory task. It turned out another scientist who was participating in the Ring had extra capacity in his own lab and was willing to help–the very next week. They saved $50,000, and perhaps just as importantly, forged a new connection.

Even if those you ask can’t help you directly, they can tap their personal and professional networks.

To learn more about why it’s important to ask for help, check out Dr. Baker’s free ebook.

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