Managers who deliver team feedback to employees quickly and effectively develop more motivated, agile, and loyal teams. Yet a Gallup survey found only 14.5% of leaders feel confident in their ability to deliver constructive performance feedback. This lack of confidence leads managers to avoid team feedback sessions, ultimately hurting the bottom line.
There is hope! Managers can overcome their fear by learning best practices for leading feedback sessions. For example, many managers reduce the number of people participating and get more honest feedback. With a little practice, teams grow and thrive in a culture of feedback.
Why emphasize feedback to employees?
Without the structure of regular team feedback sessions, employees do not learn as much from each other and their managers. As a result, companies without a culture of feedback are less innovative. Many struggle with low employee morale. Employees who take part in regular feedback sessions know where they are performing well and where they need to improve. Those who had struggled with uncertainty find the bandwidth to focus on personal and organizational goals. Thus, smart managers include performance feedback as part of their ongoing evaluation process.
In a culture of feedback, employees, managers, and leaders all give and receive feedback regularly. Feedback occurs both one-on-one and in teams. Individual feedback gives the employee and their supervisor a structure for discussing what is working and what needs improvement. Skilled managers supply employees with the specific, actionable feedback they crave. Team feedback sessions facilitate growth and build trust. They should always be relevant, focused, and two-sided.
When to give the team feedback
The best feedback is immediate. Think of yourself as a football coach: If your team is losing at halftime, you huddle in the locker room, look at what’s going wrong, and express your confidence in the team’s ability to win. If your team is winning, you keep the momentum going by celebrating what is going well. Whether winning or losing, smart coaches give feedback right away to energize their teams and positively influence performance.
Why immediate feedback is best
Research backs the value of immediate feedback. A Gallup survey found fast feedback improves agility, motivates employees, and builds loyalty. For example:
- Employees who received meaningful feedback in the past week were four times more likely than others to be engaged in their work.
- Employees who receive daily feedback from their managers are 3.6 times more likely to be motivated to do outstanding compared to those just receiving annual performance reviews.
Daily feedback can take place one-on-one and in groups. Managers who provide One-on-one feedback Teams in fast-paced environments often huddle at the end of the day for post-mortems. When teams cannot meet daily, one-on-one feedback fills employees’ need for acknowledgment and growth.
Scheduled team feedback gives employees a voice
In addition to daily feedback, teams gather to debrief, celebrate success, and decide what to do differently. It is important for employees to have scheduled time to offer feedback and know they are heard at the following times:
- After an event, product launch, or campaign;
- When your team finishes or reaches milestones in a project;
- At intervals like the end of the week, month, or quarter; and
- After an accident, crisis, or negative publicity.
Some managers also gather team feedback when starting new projects. Their team reviews their last project and then looks at how they can improve.
Planning for an effective team feedback session
Before gathering the team for some performance feedback, invest 15-30 minutes in planning the session itself. Follow these steps to design a fruitful feedback session:
- Set goals for the session. The goals may be narrow, like reviewing a recent event, or broader, like prioritizing projects for next month. Having a goal keeps the conversation focused and productive.
- Decide who to invite. Determine who to invite based on the goals of the meeting. A group of five to ten people is best, so narrow down your list based on who will contribute the most valuable insights and benefit from the feedback. Consider inviting a person external to the team who nevertheless depends on the team’s output—a sales manager, for example. Just be cautious that you do not invite someone who might feel inclined to dominate the session.
- Choose a place and time. Once you know who needs to be at the session, choose whether to gather in person, online, or in a hybrid meeting. When feasible, set the date well in advance and get on the calendar of key people.
- Send the information beforehand. Begin the feedback session as an asynchronous meeting by distributing the agenda and materials ahead of time. Doing so gives team members time to think about the topic and gather information before the meeting. When the group gathers, employees will be ready to contribute.
Setting the tone for open dialogue
Employees who fear being put down, dismissed, or judged will shut down at feedback sessions. On the other hand, when teams value psychological safety their members are more willing to speak up, openly sharing what is not working and brainstorming solutions. Thus, effective team feedback sessions begin by setting ground rules designed to prevent destructive dialogue. Follow these steps for creating a safe space for team feedback:
- Consider crafting your own “anchor statement,” like the Retrospective Prime Directive by Norm Kerth, author of Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, The Prime Directive states: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”
- State the expectation for confidentiality. For example, if it's a closed feedback session, tell the group, “What is said at the meeting does not leave the room. There also will be no repercussions for what is said.” But if feedback needs to be reported, make that clear instead.
- Give directions about what to do when judgments arise, saying “I would like you to treat your judgments as hypotheses, then present them to the team as a starting point for dialogue. We will fully explore all judgments, then reach a conclusion together on what is right.”
- Before giving feedback, seek to understand the behavior by asking questions and listening. After gathering the information you need, avoid offering advice on what to do next. Instead, allow team members to talk until they reach a solution.
Once the team agrees to safe communication, lead an icebreaker exercise. The icebreaker will loosen people up and prepare them to listen and talk.
Dos and don’ts of facilitating performance feedback
As a facilitator of a performance feedback session, you serve the team. Position yourself as a learner who will ask questions, listen, and ask again. You can prepare for the role by developing a list of questions to guide the group’s thinking:
- Vague questions
- Leading questions
- Questions that put people on the defensive or embarrass them
- Open-ended questions with more than one right answer
- Questions that encourage everyone to participate
Open-ended questions yield more diverse ideas and support efforts to build an inclusive feedback culture. They also help people feel more comfortable speaking, resulting in a richer conversation.
Effective facilitators ensure everyone has a chance to share their thoughts. If just one person answers a question, ask if others want to share before you ask the next question.
Examples: Four must-ask questions for team feedback sessions
After completing a project or campaign, ask these four questions to debrief and move forward:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- What could we have done differently?
- What do we do next?
Apply these four questions to every activity and see how much feedback you receive from employees. Engagement, productivity, and loyalty will improve because your team has dedicated itself to a feedback culture.