Why feedback matters

The secret to creating great teams lies in encouraging regular constructive feedback. Feedback shared in the right way promotes an environment of continuous improvement. It motivates people and drives them to succeed.

This may seem like obvious advice but I'm always amazed by how often people don't pay attention to it. A lack of regular feedback, whether negative or positive, has the opposite effect. It impedes learning and lets small issues develop into bigger problems. It can lead to a breakdown in trust and ultimately the development of a toxic environment.

Good feedback is more than only one-way coaching between a manager and report. It requires regular communication between all team members and in all directions. People sharing and accepting input on their work and interactions in an open manner.

Encouraging the sharing of regular feedback in teams helps them develop in a variety of ways. Some of which are more obvious than others:-

  1. Feedback provides people with an opportunity to learn from others. Sharing knowledge and skills helps team members grow and develop faster. This is key to promoting an environment of continuous improvement. Less obvious is that these interaction also benefit the person providing the feedback. Encouraging people to teach others, promotes their sense of responsibility and engagement. People feel implicated in the success of the team and are more motivated as a result.
  2. Sharing feedback allows people to define boundaries and expectations for interactions with others. This helps to develop the unspoken guidelines for how a team should operate. By communicating what they expect, people avoid unnecessary conflict and ensure a productive environment. This feedback is particularly important in the early stages of a team's development.
  3. Encouraging people to share concerns early on, avoids them turning into serious problems. It provides others with an early opportunity to take corrective action. The act of sharing and being listened to is also often enough to diminish a problem. This type of feedback helps to create an environment of trust. One where everything is out in the open and people know where they stand.
  4. When feedback is positive, it provides merit where deserved. This boosts morale and encourages further achievement. Missing out on these opportunities sends the signal that they went unnoticed. Over time this can destroy team morale and lead to a bad culture.

The challenge is that sharing feedback in teams is hard to do. As a result, it often does not happen naturally. In the case of good feedback, people may brush-over successes or positive behaviour. They may feel it should be the norm or are uncomfortable complimenting others. Providing negative feedback, in a constructive manner, is even harder. Without the appropriate channels and culture, it can feel like a personal attack.

As a result, many people avoid giving any feedback to others until things are bad. This can be particularly true in tech companies, where people tend towards being more introverted. If left alone, teams can revert to avoiding issues and speaking up only when they are serious.

Creating an environment where people expect and appreciate feedback is key to avoiding this. The culture and mechanisms that drive communication in a company should be carefully considered. Tools that work well include 1-on-1 meetings, regular structured 360 feedback and retrospective sessions. Leading by example is also critical. Expect feedback from others, whether they are peers, managers or reports. Make sure that this expectation is clear to them and follow up if you don't receive regular feedback yourself.

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