8 exercises to provide collective feedback to your team
Giving feedback as a team is an effective way to help the group grow as one. According to Gallup, only 2 in every 10 employees feel that their annual performance reviews inspire them to improve. The current methods are not working.
The first step is to stop thinking of employee assessments as once (or twice) a year events. The speed of business requires input as fast as people need to adapt.
The second (and most crucial) step is to turn feedback into a collective experience. Rather than just one on one conversations, practice giving and receiving feedback as a group. When people learn to address their issues collectively and in the open, they will behave the same way to fix them.
Giving feedback in a team setting doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of one on one conversations. However, in my experience coaching high-performing teams, once people get used to addressing issues as one, the problems that need to be discussed in a private setting are few.
If you’re concerned about whether you should give feedback as a team, you’re not alone. Many leaders think their teams are not ready. However, these proven methods will help you build a culture of regular, collective feedback.
Use these Eight Exercises to Give Feedback to Your Team
Giving feedback is a gift that helps people learn and grow. When practiced as a team, it fosters collaboration — not just learning.
Collective feedback encourages people to focus on the outcomes as a team. They celebrate success and address failure as one, rather than focusing on who to reward or blame.
Here are eight methods to help your team approach giving and receiving feedback as one.
1. Create a High-Transparency Feedback Culture (like the All Blacks do)
The New Zealand All Blacks are not just the best rugby team in history, but one of the most successful sports team ever. They have an all-time winning percentage of 77.41% over 580 international matches since playing their first Test match in 1903. All Black star players come and go, but its powerful culture has enabled consistent high performance.
One of the secrets of their success is intellectual humility, as I wrote here. The All Blacks foster this through a culture of high-transparency, high-accountability feedback. Every player can hear (and learn) from how everyone is doing, all the time. Feedback is shared in the open –– players can connect their own performance to that of the team and vice versa.
A culture of open, transparent feedback creates ownership and a sense of collectivism. Not only is low performance hidden, but the main conversation is, “How can we improve as a team?” versus “How can each of us play better?”
The All Blacks’ transparent feedback practice encourages people to analyze their own performance at the service of the team. Before getting together, players review videos of previous games and training sessions. Everyone comes prepared for the collective feedback session.
A culture of high transparency not only removes the fear of sharing feedback in the open, but also creates a high performing culture, too. Players hold each other accountable, challenging each other with facts or data. There are no hard feelings because the practice is not about judging people but about what is good for the team.
The All Blacks maintain a ‘running commentary’ on performance as it occurs. This mistake-tolerant mindset makes it okay to share feedback in the open. There’s no winning without learning and growth; the New Zealand rugby team learns from every training session and match, regardless of whether they win or lose.
2. Practice Shared Gifting with Your Team
Feedback is a gift. It should be a rewarding experience for both the giver and the receiver. There’s no such thing as negative feedback; we need people’s input to see what we don’t know we don’t know. That’s why we must welcome it with open arms.
Don’t wait for a special occasion, like the annual performance review, to give feedback. This exercise will help your team practice the art of giving often. Most importantly, it will break the belief that we should give feedback in front of others. When teams get used to giving feedback together as one – as the All Blacks do – collective performance will rise.
The Shared Gifting exercise is a simple experience that you can practice either face-to-face or online. Arrange the team in a circle. Choose who will start. The first person has to provide feedback to the individual on their left. Then, the person who was receiving feedback (the receiver) becomes the giver. If you are doing it virtually, ask people to select the gallery view so everyone can see each other. Have someone facilitate who should give feedback to whom.
Each person has to provide short feedback using the following two questions:
- “I like that you…”
- “I wish that you…”
The first question is about appreciating a trait or behavior such as “I like that you challenge our ideas with great questions,” or “I like your positive attitude.”
The second is about something that you want the person to improve or do more often, such as “I wish you could participate more often” or “I wish your jokes didn’t feel like you aren’t taking our conversations seriously.”
Effective feedback requires balancing, providing appreciation, and sharing areas of opportunity. In that sense, make sure people don’t use the “I wish…” to say something polite like “I wish you continue being as collaborative as you are.” Feedback is meant to help people grow, not just reinforce what they are good at.
The one-breath feedback is a fun variation of this exercise. People have limited time to talk (they take a deep breath and then have to stop talking once they run out of air). Read here how to facilitate the one-breath feedback exercise.
Practicing shared gifting turns feedback into a gift that keeps giving. It’s a quick way to get people used to practicing feedback collectively and giving and receiving feedback from others in the open.
3. Triad Feedback: Go Slow to Go Fast
Most teams feel uncomfortable about giving feedback in front of others. The most common resistance has nothing to do with what they have to say, but about their culture. Opaque organizations have turned giving feedback in a painful, stressful experience. People associate it to being judged or attacked; no surprise that they don’t want to practice it in the open.
Microsoft’s toxic culture was the result of a broken performance review method based on a stack ranking that promoted individualism and internal competition. The new CEO had to get rid of that method and to ban the word “feedback” because of the negative connotations.
The Triad Feedback (or Troika Consulting, the original name by Liberating Structures) is a method that makes it easier for people to ask for – and provide – feedback. It works in small groups of three, where everyone takes a turn to give and receive feedback based on a personal challenge.
The ‘client’ (receiver) introduces their problem by answering two questions, “What is your challenge?” and “What kind of help do you need?” Then the client turns back to listen to the ‘consultants’ (giver) brainstorm possible solutions, listening, and taking notes. Finally, the receiver turns around and shares what they heard and thanks the givers.
Repeat until the three people have played the client role.
To learn how to facilitate the Triad Feedback Exercise, read this post.
The key benefit of this feedback exercise is it makes it easier for people to open up in smaller groups. The feedback is focused on a particular challenge they brought up, and everyone switches roles from receiver to giver. It’s the perfect way to build a culture of collective feedback – starting small to go big in the future.
You can do this in person or facilitate it virtually.
4. Host a Pixar-Style Braintrust
Honesty is absolutely critical during the creative development process. Whether your team is trying to solve a problem, develop a new product, or improve the way they work, feedback is critical to help ideas grow.
Pixar practices radical candor as a team. The company believes that honesty is critical to turn their “ugly babies” (as Ed Catmull calls them) into box office successes. Radical candor requires balancing honest feedback while also caring about the people.
This approach is what Pixar practices during early movie development reviews. And, of course, they realized that the best way to help improve a movie is to give feedback collectively and in the open.
Braintrusts are how Pixar refers to their ideas review method. Its purpose is, in Catmull’s words, “To push towards excellence, and root out mediocrity.” The president of Walt Disney Animation Studios considers Braintrusts to be Pixar’s culture secret sauce.
A Braintrust is formed of two groups of colleagues that meet periodically. On one side is the team that’s working on the movie and requires feedback. On the other is a team working on a different film.
The focus of the conversation is to get feedback as a team, to get input on the key elements like the storyline, characters, design, etc. The movie owners present their idea to the others, who share their feedback. The givers provide input on the movie; they don’t judge or evaluate the people involved. That makes a huge difference.
There is no room for hidden agendas during a Braintrust. Not only because the project owners hold complete authority on what to do with the feedback they get but also because the other side is there to help, not compete with their colleagues. Most importantly, Pixar has a psychologically safe culture. People are used to sharing feedback in the open.
A useful Braintrust addresses:
What is wrong?
What is missing?
What isn’t clear?
What makes no sense?
Andrew Stanton, Finding Nemo’s director, compares a Braintrust with a panel of doctors:
“If Pixar is a hospital and the movies are the patients, then the Braintrust is made up of trusted doctors.”
A Braintrust is similar to the Red Team/ Blue Team methods that the Army uses to challenge new plans. Your team can use it to help each other’s ideas grow; outsiders see what we usually miss. Braintrusts are also an effective way to build the habit of providing feedback collectively.
Read this post to learn how to facilitate a Braintrust as Pixar does.
5. Default to Open, Just Like Slack
Transparency is critical for effective teamwork. In most organizations, people tend to avoid addressing difficult issues in the open. The problem is that secrecy harms trust and promotes more fear and silence.
Slack’s workplace culture is default to open; everyone is encouraged to discuss their concerns or share their ideas openly.
This approach is shaped at the top of the organization. Stewart Butterfield tries to avoid sending direct messages to team members; he encourages conversations in open channels instead. Slack’s CEO believes that sharing his ideas or a decision that he’s considering provides an excellent opportunity for employees to chime in.
Creating a culture that defaults to open can be intimidating; it takes time for people to get used to it and realize that, rather than facing potential consequences, speaking up will be rewarded.
“I tend to be a lot more honest and transparent with employees than most bosses are. But I’ve had people tell me – even those who love working with me – that I’m terrifying, which is hard for me to imagine.”
— Stewart Butterfield
Another way that Slack brings its “default to open culture” to life is by the #exec-ama channel. People are encouraged to ask an executive anything. By using this channel, they can ask a question ahead of their all-hands meeting or encourage introverts to speak up more often. AMA stands for “ask me anything”––it’s a safe way to promote healthy discussions in public.
Another example of Slack’s default to open culture is the #beef-tweets channel––a space for employees to air their ‘beefs’ with the company’s own product. This open channel encourages people to air issues so that they can be heard and fixed. Once a problem has been resolved, someone responds with a checkmark and people move on.
Embracing a default to open culture is easier than it seems. However, it requires that senior executives lead by example – and stick to it even during a crisis. Google used to promote open conversations during their TGIF meetings, but after facing backslash, the company canceled its ‘default to open’ approach. Currently, Google employees are only allowed to ask questions related to strategy and products; all other topics are off-limits.
6. Focus on Behaviors that Makes Team Members Act as One
Even regular performance reviews can be approached from a collective lens. That’s what Atlassian, Australian enterprise software multinational, ushered in their new review system that’s designed to give their employees a more holistic evaluation of how they’re performing. Atlassian’s new approach focuses more on whether people contribute to the company culture rather than how skilled they are.
The enterprise software company’s new performance review evaluates employees across three categories:
- Demonstration of values (behaviors such as transparent and constructive communication and actively helping others)
- Delivery on role expectations (measuring individual achievements)
- Contribution to the team (how the employee interacts with and treats others)
The new approach gives more weight to collective behaviors. As Bek Chee, Atlassian’s head of talent, told Quartz, the new performance review format, “says to the people who are volunteering, ‘The work you’re doing that’s connecting all of us? That’s valued.’”
The company wants to focus more on fostering collaboration than on individual talent. The new performance review is meant to weed out “brilliant jerks,” but it’s also designed to reward those who help Atlassian’s culture grow. It rewards collective behaviors such as mentoring others, helping in other teams’ projects, or taking responsibility beyond their roles.
Atlassian continues to ascribe to Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” approach. The company believes that it’s possible to give direct, honest feedback without being a jerk. Also, it encourages regular peer-to-peer reviews. The belief is that team members should provide feedback to each other to help develop each other. This practice helps get the whole picture of how people perform.
When feedback practices focus on behaviors that benefit all, it cuts through internal competition and fosters collaboration.
7. Discuss What the Teams Need to Start, Stop, and Continue Doing
The “Start, stop, continue” format is a common feedback approach that shouldn’t be limited to giving feedback to individuals. I encourage people to use it as a self-reflection tool (to give oneself feedback) but, most importantly, it can also be used to give feedback collectively.
The “Start, stop, continue” template is perfect for helping team members assess how they’re working together. They can identify what’s working and what’s not by calling out the behaviors the team need to “Start,” “Stop,” and “Continue” doing.
I love this structure because it’s simple and behavior-driven rather than judging attitudes or intentions, which are very subjective. It appreciates the positive but also uncovers what needs to be fixed and areas where the team is not doing well.
The “Start, Stop, Continue” method can be facilitated in two ways:
- Everyone assesses themselves and then the team overall. Then, feedback about the team is shared and integrated
- Focus only on the team, everyone working simultaneously in providing feedback by focusing on one box at a time in the following order: start, stop, continue.
I also apply it when difficult conversations need to happen and to integrate two perspectives.
A few months ago, I was helping an engineering firm lead a culture transformation initiative. At some point, they needed to address the elephant in the room, “Will the executive committee support us during this transformation?” I asked the team to capture their ask by using the Start, Stop, Continue template. I also requested that the Executive Committee practiced a self-assessment using the same method. Then, I facilitated a session integrating both perspectives to drive constructive dialogue.
The Start, Stop, Continue formula is an effective method to focus on behaviors and address feedback as a team. Here’s how to facilitate it in more detail.
8. Encourage Your Team to Ask for Feedback rather than Giving It
Managers usually believe that feedback is a one-way street; they believe their role is to give feedback to their teams. However, receiving the gift with open arms is crucial to create a culture of feedback – especially if you’re a manager.
Great leaders receive more feedback than they give. Not only do they create a safe space and are open to listening, but spend more time asking people what they can improve rather than telling others what to do.
Patagonia’s culture is non-conventional and irreverent. It’s a cause disguised as a company. However, a few years ago, it was an extremely hierarchical company with a rigid review process. When Dan Carter joined Patagonia, he wanted, “Something that was employee-centric and centered on getting the data straight to employees so they can change their behavior tomorrow.”
One of the first realizations was reframing people’s relationship with feedback. The first thing Carter did was convincing CEO Rose Marcario that a system of continuous feedback was the right thing for Patagonia.
Patagonia eliminated performance ratings and implemented a tech-enabled system of continuous feedback and quarterly check-ins. Feedback was encouraged at any time, providing real-time 360-degree insight. This approach clarified what was expected of individuals and teams.
However, the most significant change was to encourage managers to be receivers, not givers. Patagonia wanted people to give feedback as a team.
“When you ask for feedback, you create generosity in the system, and it explodes exponentially,” Carter told HR Executive. “It’s much more powerful to ask than to just get it unsolicited.”
Patagonia trains managers to ask others for feedback, rather than giving feedback. Unsolicited feedback usually doesn’t work, as I wrote here. By asking people for feedback, managers do not just embrace intellectual humility and a learning mindset; they also encourage others to do so. That’s how you create a culture of regular feedback.
When someone requests feedback, the person you request it from is more likely to do the same. They will start asking for feedback from two or three other people. And that’s how you create a movement of people soliciting input from others.
Feedback is a gift that requires generosity from both givers and receivers. Learn from Patagonia: don’t encourage managers to give feedback; train them to request feedback from others.
Why to Give Feedback as a Team
Collective feedback is an effective way to create a culture of learning and growth. By focusing on group behavior, you will be encouraging people to focus on collective outcomes.
Team feedback creates a sense of collective accountability; rather than blaming each other, each team member will own their share of responsibility. Remember, culture is the behavior that you reward and punish. If you want people to lead as one, provide feedback as one, too.
Do you want to improve how you give feedback to your team?