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They’re Thinking It, So We Might As Well Hear It!

Team Feedback

This blog post has been written by guest contributor, Jan Perkins, ICMA Liaison, Senior Partner, Management Partners 

It can be scary to ask people for genuine feedback, because it requires you to be vulnerable and to open yourself to criticism. You risk learning that a project you poured your heart into was perceived by others as less than successful, or that you overlooked steps that could have helped others get the most out of your work. Given the risks, it’s natural to want to turn away from the prospect of honest feedback, preferring instead to forge ahead with your best efforts.

But feedback is a gift, even when difficult to receive or deliver. People have already formed their opinions and observations, and finding ways to draw it out from them allows us to expand our knowledge of ourselves. Leaving feedback about ourselves unsaid doesn’t eliminate people’s opinions – it simply leaves it unspoken. Since it’s there, it’s in our interest to know what it is and how other people perceive our work. One important way we grow is to understand how we are perceived by others. Even if we choose not to use the feedback, there is value in knowing the details of it.

The key is to be open to feedback, ask for it in a constructive way, and then use it for improvement. It is a gift, when we can get feedback. 

Here are some ways to ask for feedback.

  1. Make it routine. After every project or big event for which you had lead responsibility, schedule time for a debrief from team members. Explain the purpose of the exercise, and make it clear that the purpose is to improve results for the next time. Be open to hearing both the positive and learnings for the future.
  2. Use different settings. Sometimes a group setting will encourage people to make observations they might not alone. Other times feedback can be sensitive and is best elicited one on one. Setting up multiple settings for feedback will increase the kinds you get and will ultimately improve its usefulness.
  3. Ask in advance. Give people a chance to gather their thoughts before presenting their feedback. They will have time to figure out exactly what they want to say and how best to say it, which will increase its benefits for you.
  4. Don’t rely on email or texts. Asking for feedback in writing is risky because there’s no room for tone, and people can read and re-read negative feedback (and read into it) in a way that’s not helpful. Whenever possible, set things up to receive feedback in person, or at least in a phone call.
  5. Document the results of the feedback. When you receive valuable feedback and make changes based on it, make sure people know about it. They’ll be more likely to offer it in the future if they know it’s not a waste of time.

As you begin to understand the benefits of soliciting feedback, be sure to return the favor by offering useful feedback. The exchange of feedback creates a virtuous cycle, offering everyone the opportunity to improve in an atmosphere of trust and honesty.

Carole Robin, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has assembled a great list of tips for offering effective feedback.

Jan Perkins is Senior Partner with the local government consulting firm Management Partners. She is the former city manager of Fremont and Morgan Hill, California; was assistant city manager of Santa Ana, California; and started her career in Michigan in the cities of Grand Rapids and Adrian. Jan is an ICMA Credentialed Manager, graduate of the University of Kansas’ MPA Program, serves as ICMA Liaison and is a founding member of Women Leading Government.

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