There are many things managers need to do and the majority involve working with others. Doing this in an efficient way that doesn’t disrupt others is a challenge! It could be asking a simple question or needing more in-depth information. The people you need have their own responsibilities, they could be having their own challenges or deeply focusing on something. So how do managers make requests to people without upsetting them?
First, what do I mean by a request? In this context, it’s the need for something from another person. It could be an answer to a question or a need for another person to carry out some sort of task. Ultimately, it’s something that they won’t be expecting and will likely interrupt them in some way.
We know, in reality, there are times as a manager when things need to happen urgently. This should be an exception though. The worst thing you can do is blindly make requests to people without a thought for them.
One main consideration is showing respect for how people like to work. For example, I start work quite early in the morning but typically hold off communicating with anyone until after they’ve started working and settled. From past experience, I didn’t like switching on in the morning to a list of requests so I don’t want that for others. It does mean getting to know others and their preferences so you can work with them as much as possible.
There are many things managers can do to help those we work with. But, as with many things, it depends. Ask yourself quick questions before taking action… Does it need a whole team, only a couple of people or just one? Is it a quick question or is there more discussion involved? Understanding that teams and people are busy helps us to check our actions before making requests.
Here are some considerations I factor in when making requests…
If it’s for only one person…
- Can it be done asynchronously? If yes, choose this option. If asking a question on slack, ask it straight away instead of waiting for a response to a “Hello” intro!
- If you need to speak, can it wait for a 1:1? That’s my preferred choice. I put the question/comment on our joint doc for visibility.
- Have awareness of their usual schedule with team meetings so try to avoid pinging during that time
- Know their focus times, ideally people use a slack emoji on the status or put them in their calendar for awareness
- Check their calendar to see if they’re in a meeting (if it’s visible)
The more you know the person the better decisions you can make with when and how to make requests.
If you’re needing to chat to someone, also consider how they might see the request – “Have you got a few mins for a quick chat?” could cause anxiety as many people immediately think it’s something serious. Adding “Nothing to worry about” or context on the question can relieve any concern and help the person be more ready to help when you talk.
If you need a Team…
- Can it be done asynchronously? If it’s something that can be done in a team chat/channel it’s usually the best option. There’s visibility for everyone.
- Consider if it’s a busy time – is it release time or end of sprint? Or anytime you know the team is busy! If it is a busy time and your request isn’t urgent, see if you can hold off until the next team meeting.
- Use already scheduled meetings if you can. I try to join their daily updates semi-regularly which can be a good opportunity to make requests
- Or, if more time is needed, schedule a time that piggybacks on an existing meeting so the team is already together.
- If a decision was made, update the team channel with the outcome for visibility and confirmation.
- Timing is critical for engagement
- Don’t overload – sharing or asking for too many things at once isn’t ideal. The importance of any particular request can be nullified or confused. Focus on the important thing and prioritise the others.
While writing this I did have remote working in mind but the principles apply the same way in the office. One advantage of being in the office is the ability to observe more opportune moments to speak with people depending on the request.
To summarise, there can be a desire for managers to get tasks done quickly and check them on the list. However, many of those tasks could require input or information from others. Taking time to find out how best to work with your team will can help in building a healthy environment. Trust builds quicker when your team know you value their time.