How to answer: “How can I help you be more effective?”

Did your boss ever ask you this question?

One of the dilemmas for managers is the tendency to delegate down and avoid asking others for feedback, especially on how they can perform their job better. The risk in doing this is that you stop others from sharing what you need to hear; as a result, stagnation occurs, trust is limited, and productivity muted.

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Delegating Up and Down

This article covers the first of two questions:

#1 “How can I help you”….this is to subordinates down the chain of command

The second is:

#2 “I need help”….this is to superiors up the chain of command

So, how do you encourage your team (or clients) to tell you what you need to hear. After all, if you don’t get this feedback, you’re working in a vacuum and unlikely to see your own blindspots.

What happens when you ask: How can I help you be more effective?

You’ll probably get flooded with a variety of nitty-gritty complaints.

  • Can we change the seating?
  • Can I have a new PC?
  • Can I work from home?
  • I don’t like working with Charlie. Can you put her somewhere else?

But you also hear suggestions that you didn’t expect, such as:

  • If I were to work from home, I could work on your reports over the weekend, so they’d be ready (every time) for the Monday morning meetings.
  • If we changed the arrangement of the team, we could save office space and free up some room for a ‘quiet area’.
  • If you changed the reports to include ‘headlights’ others would understand your priorities much faster.

In other words, by encouraging others to give you feedback, you’ll start to:

So, what’s the downside?

The Risks of Asking Your Team For Feedback

You need to deliver on what you promise.

Otherwise it’s empty words. If you decide to encourage others to share what you need to hear, then you must be prepared to act.

This means more than passive listening and agreeing with their observations, needs, or fears.

You need to be able, willing, and interested enough to help them be more effective. Doing this requires a real interest in each member of your team’s personal success.

Another risk is that some team members may not be comfortable with this arrangement. They look to you for direction. Asking them for feedback may feel like a test to them.

If this is the case, be patient and let them see how others approach you. Once they have a frame of reference, they are more likely to express ideas without feeling threatened or running down their own ideas.

The Rewards of Getting Feedback From Your Team

The benefits are that, once you have the team’s trust, they are more likely to share information faster, especially negative messages that they would otherwise hide or fudge.

Likewise, your team is likely to take more responsibility and look for creative ways to reduce bottlenecks, paperworks, and other impediments.

If you can listen without getting defensive, admit mistakes, see your blind spots, you can leverage these conversations as an opportunity for you to learn.


Once you decide to ask others what they need, you’ll likely get a variety of answers including complaints, impractical requests, and criticism of your performance. For me personally (both at home and at work), this means delegating more tasks and avoiding the ‘if you want to get something done, do it yourself’ attitude.

Do you feel comfortable asking your boss for help? Or does your boss ever volunteer to help you with your job? What really needs to change?