The first feedback process I was ever a part of also happened to be the best.
I was fresh out of grad school and part of a small team at a big, fast-growing company. We were an innovation lab of sorts; finding creative solutions to traditional HR processes.
Our little team included a huge diversity of talents, opinions, and backgrounds. And with this being the first “real” job for us all, we were inexperienced in almost every sense. We had few work basics under our belt to help us navigate our work and our issues. But, at the same time, our lack of experience helped us look at everything with fresh eyes. We communicated and debated passionately about everything.
Despite- or maybe because of- our intense passion and talent, we struggled to get things done. So, when nearly every attempt to make a decision started to feel like we were knocking heads, we figured it was time to take a close look at how we were working together.
We decided to create a feedback process so we could talk about our experiences working together and get to the bottom of our conflict. Our goal was to make the exercise as honest, productive and trust-strengthening as possible.
Creating our own feedback process felt intuitive, however, we later learned that most people use standard templates.
I’m glad we did it our way, because our approach led to open and transparent feedback. And due to its simplicity and results, it’s my favorite process to share with leaders to this day. Here’s how we did it.
We agreed on a set of open-ended questions. We were ready to be open with ourselves and share candidly with each other.
Because our goal was to become a higher performing team, we asked ourselves questions like, “To what extent does the other person encourage all points of view to be added to our pool of shared meaning”? “To what extent do they fully back a decision once the team has made it”? “What’s one uniquely valuable strength that I (the feedback giver) experience with this team member”? “What’s one thing I’m struggling with or feel could be improved upon with the way we work together?”
We responded in writing to the questions for each member of the team. This gave us the space to reflect and provide thoughtful responses. It also ensured a better chance that the feedback would be fully absorbed.
Moreover, writing (and reading) the comments first turned out to be a great dress rehearsal for discussing it in person.
We met with each other individually to discuss. By that point, we had personally processed the feedback so our emotions weren’t raw. Regardless of people’s frustrations heading into the process, each conversation was constructive, respectful and truthful.
We weren’t looking to create something unique. We simply created what we thought would achieve the level of understanding and alignment we knew we needed.
I later came to learn that few companies communicate this openly: both in general, and when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.
In fact, many feedback systems fall short because the honesty and transparency that’s needed isn’t fully present in their company’s culture. So the things that require more courage- like looking someone in the eye when sharing your thoughts- become an optional step versus being core to the experience.