A team is a group of people that works together to achieve a common objective. As the number of members on the team grows, the team has more power but the dynamic also becomes more complex! There are more people to align toward the vision and practices for continuous communication become very important. Feedback is a basic form of collaboration that allows the team to operate day-to-day as well as improve and progress. Many leaders often undervalue feedback and miss out on the subtle but crucial keys for making feedback really fuel the team’s progress and engagement.
Before we get into the four steps to realizing the full power of feedback, let’s look at a simple example that illustrates how feedback works and the role the leader plays in enabling feedback.
If you think about how your body functions and how you make decisions about how to act and improve your life, a critical aspect is that your nervous system is working: that your brain is receiving feedback from your body to interpret and respond with direction. For example, when you pick up a hot cup of coffee and it burns your hand, it’s important that your brain receives the feedback that it’s hot so that you can direct your hand to release the coffee. The feedback provides important information for you to take a logical subsequent action.
Similarly, on our teams, the components need to be in place (our team members) and communication lines must be set up and connected properly. The brain must be open to listening. Many leaders stop here; however, setting up the conditions for successful communication between people is a bit more complex. As leaders, we need to go further to enable truly impactful feedback. Leaders must also cultivate an environment of trust, acknowledge feedback, and then take action. Now let’s look more closely at the four steps to fully realzing the power of feedback.
Step 1. Set Up Regular Opportunities for Sharing Feedback
This is the first basic step for enabling feedback. The leader is like the brain in the nervous system, collecting all the feedback from the team members and relaying that feedback as needed. Of course, team members do talk among each other and give each other feedback but the leader is responsible for proactively setting up regular opportunities for feedback and guiding best practices for how feedback is given and received.
How: Feedback opportunities include regular team meetings to review objectives and share open dialogue about the team dynamic. Also, regular one-on-one meetings between the leader and team members are critical because team members often share more detailed feedback than they would in a group setting. Even if ideally that wouldn’t be the case, the relationship between leader and team member is of utmost importance. The leader should talk with each team member one-on-one at least weekly to collect genuine feedback from all perspectives.
Step 2. Cultivate a Culture of Trust (Not Fear)
Setting up opportunities to give and receive feedback is the foundation for enabling feedback but this doesn’t guarantee there will be transparent, open feedback. There are many more complex factors that can affect whether there are transparent, genuine lines of communication. A big part of enabling impactful feedback is cultivating an environment where truthfulness is welcomed and encouraged. When our team members fear potential consequences of honest communication about mistakes or fear the response to providing constructive feedback, communications freeze up and progress stagnates. Ensuring that you cultivate an environment of trust over fear as the leader is key in ensuring that feedback is open, honest, and therefore will be truly impactful.
How: Leaders can cultivate trust in multiple ways. You can cultivate trust by sharing your own challenges with team members. Ask how you can be of support of their work and current challenges. In team meetings, you can ask team members to bring current challenges to pose to the team for feedback and support. Encourage open discussion of challenges and frame mistakes as an opportunity for learning and improvement. Show by example that telling the truth when you don’t know something is not looked down upon but a means for learning and growth. Lead by example by always giving feedback (even constructive feedback) with a positive tone.
Step 3. Acknowledge and Reward Feedback
Make sure to acknowledge team members that share honest, thoughtful feedback. Acknowledgement fuels motivation and positive engagement. As I write about in Awake Leadership, acknowledgement is so simple and so commonly overlooked in the fast-paced environments we work in. It’s easy to do and if done genuinely, it does wonders for team morale. Set reminders. Get in the practice of giving acknowledgement and taking action on the team’s input.
How: To acknowledge feedback, make sure you respond to each piece of feedback team members share with you or the group. Thanking team members for proactively sharing feedback — in person or via e-mail — is the simplest yet most commonly overlooked way to motivate team members to engage and participate. To go a step further, think about how you, as the leader, can make sure each piece of feedback is acknowledged and actioned upon. Always positively acknowledge the act of feedback, even if the feedback is something you need to discuss further with the team member before taking action on it.
Step 4. Close the Loop and Take Action!
Finally, it is important that the leader utilizes the team’s feedback by putting it into action, of course! If team members don’t see the value of giving and receiving feedback in action, team members will feel that their time is not well spent in giving the feedback. This is why, as a leader, it’s so important to cultivate an environment where feedback is welcomed as well as put into action to fuel team improvement and progress.
For feedback to be impactful and for teams to thrive, opportunities and conditions for continuous, genuine feedback need to be cultivated by the leader. Feedback is of utmost importance for progressing as a team and enjoying the collaborative process of working with a group of people toward your mission. The second two steps, which are often missed, unleash the full power of feedback through cultivating a team culture of trust and acknowledgement.
What are your team exercises for continuously sharing and actioning upon feedback? How do you lead by example and cultivate conditions for transparent, positive feedback?
If you’d like more insights and exercises for setting up feedback loops with your team, check out my new book, Awake Ethics. The first section of the book is all about Truthfulness. In this first section of Awake Ethics, I provide insights about the value of feedback as well as exercises for setting up regular opportunities for giving and receiving feedback with your team. I also provide insights about how to give and receive feedback to make impactful (and joy-full) progress with your team.