Encouraging a Culture of Openness in Your Water Lab

A strong work culture is critical to the success of your lab, and hiring the right people with the right skills is an important step in fulfilling that goal. But while skills are crucial, developing an environment in which your employees feel valued and encouraged to work hard and share their ideas and feedback is critical to establishing an inclusive culture.

Listen and Learn

It's hard to overemphasize the importance of listening to your staff and letting them know you're open to hearing their insights and concerns. Staffers at the bench develop ideas and observations that managers may not be attuned to since your focus is on the overall operation of the lab rather than on specific processes or tasks.

Since ideas come up in different ways and at different times, your employees are likely to prefer various contexts in which to discuss them. Setting up several opportunities for sharing information is one way to foster active listening.

Private Meetings

Set up a clear and obvious open-door policy. While work-related conversations are a priority, let your team know that not all your discussions have to be specifically about work. The promise of confidentiality lets your staff know they can approach you with whatever issues they have.

Staff Meetings

Regular staff meetings are essential. They're times to discuss business as well as for employees to open the floor to colleagues to get their input on a question or comment. Set aside time at the end of meetings for staff comments or discussion or establish an understanding that they're free to comment and ask questions throughout the meeting. Regardless of the approach, appropriate etiquette as topics are raised and discussed is consistent with a culture of mutual respect.

Informal Gatherings

Sometimes the best ideas come from informal gatherings. You may hold a regular potluck meal or events in recognition of staff achievements. Sometimes impromptu discussions at the end of a work week tap into topics top of mind. While such events aren't primarily work-related, they provide opportunities for engaging staff in more free-form brainstorming sessions.

Regardless of the particular format or context, this time lets you and your staff share your core commitment to team cohesion by emphasizing open, respectful communication with the goal of strengthening staff cooperation.

Beware the Negative

As important as emphasizing your commitment to openness is, you also have to be on the lookout for the negative. Your goal is to build and maintain a culture of trust and openness, and the unfortunate fact is that it doesn't take much to undo or diminish that work.

According to Magi Graziano, an employee recruitment and engagement expert, there tend to be three causes of employee negativity: "an unfulfilled expectation, a thwarted intention, or an undelivered communication." In her view, a successful manager is one who is consistently connected to employees and thus attuned to their feelings and work styles, ready to step in and address any concerns or complaints before they fuel a larger attitudinal problem.

Continued Training and Development

While it may not seem directly related to the goal of building and sustaining a culture dedicated to open communication, the fact is that regular training programs provide opportunities to build relationships. As you discuss new skills your team can acquire, they can also contribute to the goals and success of your lab, and this continues to help you build strong connections so you stay plugged in to the pulse of your employees.

Questions for You

Building and maintaining an open lab culture is primarily a communication challenge, and since your training and experience are in the scientific knowledge and technological processes that make your lab run, it helps to ask yourself on a regular basis, including:

  • Have I been clear to the team about the lab's overall direction and goals and how the team fits in?
  • Am I sure my employees feel comfortable bringing concerns and issues to my attention?
  • Am I being thorough and effective when it comes to applauding their successes and making sure they all share in that recognition?
  • Do they understand that while we all need to perform our responsibilities as efficiently as possible, their safety and well-being come first?

The key to building and sustaining an open culture in your lab is to let your team know you're there when they need you. Then they're bound to be there for you, both personally and professionally.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.