Although I try really hard to avoid it, too often these days I find myself doing a little too much just-in-time, management-by-the-seat-of-my-pants. While often challenging, it only works because our team is pretty much a just-in-time workforce. And, while it means we’re nimble and entrepreneurial, it in turn is driving a need for just-in-time-feedback. The feedback we need in our day-to-day work, as well as in our individual performances, can’t always wait until the next meeting or the next performance review. Recently it became apparent that feedback sometimes even needs to happen on the fly.

We were on an Aboriginal reserve delivering a community building workshop. Those in attendance were hungry for learning and ready to capitalize on their strengths as well to address the challenges within their community. Knowing the change they desired requires thinking about community leadership in a different way, I asked participants to share examples of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes they wanted to see in their leaders. Normally, that question prompts all kinds of immediate answers. However in this instance, it seemed to be a tough question. Sensing a stumbling block, the woman responsible for hosting the workshop put up her hand and provided some valuable feedback. She said that perhaps we should answer that question not just by thinking about leaders as being members of the band council. She instead suggested we think of leaders as being those they turn to when they need help or when something needs to get done. We also asked participants to think about the qualities they personally could bring that would be important to leadership. Well, that certainly unleashed a lot of answers they hadn’t been able to generate when they were only thinking about those who held the formal positions of leadership. It was truly valuable feedback as it helped participants think about real leaders in their community.

At the end of the day, when our team debriefed the workshop, we talked about the importance of welcoming and being receptive to constructive feedback. While few of us enjoy hearing about what might amount to our shortcomings, our powers of self-perception only go so far. Others around us notice things that we might not, and we can learn from their input. In fact the more we actively seek feedback, the more we grow.

In addition to welcoming and being receptive to feedback, we’ve also learned it just doesn’t work to tell a person why their feedback is wrong, or to argue, deny, or justify. On the other hand, while feedback can be a gift allowing you to grow and develop, some feedback is best ignored. For instance, we ask all workshop participants to complete a feedback form at the end of the day. Typically they are quite positive or provide constructive suggestions for how the workshop could be improved. However, there are usually one or two providing suggestions that simply don’t resonate. While I used to obsess about the negative feedback, I’ve had to keep it in perspective, learn to let it go, and resist making changes just to appease one individual who might just have been having a bad day.

As well as receiving feedback, we’ve all had to learn how to give it. We refuse to be the kind of team who ignores issues that need to be discussed. As a result we’ve all got better at selecting the right time and place to provide feedback. We’ve also learned that you can provide tough and honest feedback in a kind way.

We’ve also learned a number of simple but valuable questions that are guaranteed to gather or give valuable feedback in almost any setting including individual performance reviews. These include asking, “What am I doing right that I should continue, what should I stop doing, and what could I do better?” Providing meeting feedback typically includes questions such as: “What did we do? Overall, how do we feel? What did we learn and what does it mean? How will what we learned impact what we do?”

If we continue to stop and ask ourselves, and each other, questions deliberately designed to seek feedback, we’ll keep being reminded why feedback is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef. No surprise then that it’s such an essential component of communication.

Posted on 04-11-10

Add your Comment here:






Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: On Being an Expert

Previous entry: Challenge the Mundane