Management for Scientists: Seeking Feedback

By Joanne Kamens

volunteering_feedbackThis is the second in a 5 part series on Management for scientists.

This second installment in the Management for Scientists series will focus on an aspect of communication especially important for a manager – getting feedback from the team. Successful management can almost be boiled down to one, key concept: Creating a culture of excellent, effective communication between all members of a team. As described here in a 2012 Intuit blog post, a study coming out of MITs Human Dynamics Laboratory identified five characteristics of very successful teams.

Check out Joanne's Reddit AMA

Here they are annotated with my comments:

  • Everyone on the team talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contribution short and sweet.
  • Members face one another, and their conversations and gestures are energetic. 
    • This can take practice and training. This is important because it creates a culture of engagement in the issues at hand and eagerness to get, as well as give, information to make improvements.

  • Members connect directly with one another – not just with the team leader.
    • There is no way a manager can be efficient without delegating and empowering the team to solve problems together (tactics for effective delegation will be covered in a future post in this series).

  • Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team.
  • Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back.
    • No team has all the answers – reinventing the wheel is inefficient. An effective team regularly seeks expertise wherever it can be found.

Listen to our podcast interview with Harvard Medical School researcher Connie Cepko to learn about her management style.


Seeking feedback frequently

Addgene-management-for-scientists-seeking-feedbackOne of the most important paths of information flow is the one that brings feedback back to the manager. Team members rarely rush to give honest feedback to the manager for a variety of reasons. They may feel that giving feedback will be perceived as complaining. They may worry that it seems like "tattling" if others are involved. They may feel they are wasting their time. The manager may appear to be too busy to be receptive.  

Whatever the reason, it is a fortunate and successful manager that is genuinely receptive to feedback and so receives this valuable input from at least some employees. Watch out for "information allies" – these are employees in your group that regularly step up to give feedback and fill you in on percolating issues in the team.  

Here are some other practices to encourage constructive input from your team:

Solicit feedback regularly and often

  • A one-time event doesn't work to get people sharing.  

  • Frequently ask direct questions for specific feedback in non-public settings. Ask over coffee. 

  • Have regular 1:1 meetings with team members (don’t become known for cancelling these); ask for feedback and input on multiple topics every time you meet.

 Seek feedback in multiple formats     

  • Ask for input and opinions in meetings, via email, at formal communications events or at informal gatherings, like at lunch.

  • Many experts recommend using anonymous surveys with regular frequency. Anonymity can be a great way to get honest feedback, but shouldn't be the only way.  

  • From a colleague: MBWA "Manage By Walking Around" – don't hide in your office. Stop by instead of emailing.   

Demonstrate you are open to feedback with your actions    

  • Use active listening skills such as the PAC Method. P = demonstrate patience, pause; A = ask at least one question to clarify the situation; C = confirm that you have understood the speaker accurately.

  • Thank employees who volunteer constructive feedback and suggestions. Consider offering rewards (gift card, afternoon off, etc.)

  • Act on information to make change whenever possible. Be public about changes influenced by feedback. If you don't do this, employees will stop providing feedback pretty quickly.


This is the second in a 5 part series on Introduction to Managing People for Scientists. Subscribe to the Addgene Blog to follow the entire series as it is published.

For more reading try The Discipline of Teams by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith or the book on which this article is based. Subscribe to career advice posts from Addgene

Download Addgene's Management for Scientists eBook

Topics: Science Careers, Management for Scientists

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