In the modern working environment, more responsibility and expectations are on your staff than ever before. Chief among these is the expectation that they should act as an owner of the business: showing initiative, identifying gaps, growing others and driving the change they see fit.

It’s all too common to encounter workers who are too reliant on others to get their work done. Maybe they need hands-on guidance through every step of their project. Maybe they don’t know how to tackle that technical issue. Or maybe it’s a bit more serious, and they’re unable to compete their own tasks without relying on constantly asking for help.

When I first started learning Ruby at Amazon, I found myself in the latter case too often. Either I would ask my colleagues for help too frequently, or I would get stuck and not make progress quickly enough, without asking for help. Something that helped me and others get up-to-speed in a hurry is the golden rule below:

The 15 minute rule

When someone you know is getting stuck too often, asking for help too frequently, or asking for help in an unconstructive fashion, try introducing the 15 minute rule. It works as follows:

  • They recognise they are stuck

  • They must then spend 15 minutes trying everything possible to solve it on their own, before asking for help

  • They must note everything that they tried in those 15 minutes

  • When they ask for help, you ask what did they try.

That’s all there is to it!

Advantages

  • Ensures they try solve their own problems before asking for help

  • Places a timelimit to ask for help, so they don’t get stuck for too long before asking

  • When they do ask for help, ensures that it is done as constructively as possible.

When to apply it?

You should encourage everyone that you are supporting to learn how to solve their own problems. This could be:

  • Your staff

  • People that you mentor or coach

  • Other colleagues or people in your network

  • Yourself!

Sometimes, you will need to be more directive; for example, if time is critical and someone is going down the wrong road. But in general, putting the responsibility to solve the problem with the owner of the problem, is a great way to help people bring themselves up-to-speed. And if they need help, they will have learned to present a good picture of what they tried and why it didn’t work. This will help you and others help them better going forward.

You will need to have some pre-established level of trust in order for them to buy into this scheme with you. It’s probably best suited for people in your professional life. I would not suggest to try this with your partner or parents, for example.

Conclusion

The 15 minute rule is a great way to help people that you support solve their own problems. It helps them understand when is an appropriate time to ask for help. It teaches them to request assistance in a productive and structured way. Do you have someone that you are supporting who could benefit from the 15 minute rule?

Let me know what you think in the comments!