What are the keys to giving great feedback to other team members, whether they are peers, juniors, or seniors?

I’ve found that the feedback I get from others is very valuable for my own development. Understanding how my behaviors and preferences impact others has helped me to mature quite quickly.

I have my own “theories” about what makes feedback excellent, and do my best to deliver only good feedback according to these ideas, but they are based in my own preferences.

I’m curious to hear if there are reliable principles to consider when preparing and delivering feedback.

There are a number of existing questions about feedback, but they address specific situations, typically ones in which the OP is worried about bad outcomes. I’m interested in all the other occasions for feedback - when it is willingly offered and received.

  • 3
    This seems objectively answerable to me - there's bound to be research about this. It's also definitely something that will benefit people in the workplace to be able to search easily
    – Player One
    Jun 19 '19 at 11:03
  • Feedback on what?
    – user70848
    Jul 29 '19 at 13:14
  • Feedback on behavior in the workplace. E.g., communication, collaboration, quality expectations.
    – Jay
    Jul 29 '19 at 13:30

How can I give great feedback to members of my team?

Having managed people in the past, I will offer a few pointers that worked for me. One thing I will point out is to be fair, honest, and careful of your tone in the delivery of the information, especially the negative.

  1. As mentioned above be honest. Let your employee(s) know the highs and lows as well as areas of improvement. Everyone has room to improve.
  2. Keep this confidential. Your credibility goes out the window if this information is somehow shared with other direct reports.
  3. Make areas of improvement measurable. Things like "be a better communicator" or "be more open to criticism" are really hard to measure and are typically ignored. If you have an area of improvement, show your employee how you will measure whether they have improved or not.
  4. Be kind when delivering negative feedback, and try to start and end these conversations on a positive note, when possible. As pointed out in the comments, you can't always do this and be effective at getting the point across, but you can be nice about it.

As suggested in the comments, here is what I have found to be some “keys to success” for feedback.

1. Set the tone. When a new member joins the team, describe the feedback norms of the team (e.g., frequency, who’s involved, purpose). If feedback is a core part of the team, ensure new members know to expect frequent and direct feedback - it may be unexpected and difficult to adjust to organically.

2. Make feedback part of the routine. Make formal feedback a part of the team’s weekly routine. Have recurring conversations with each team member at least monthly, perhaps weekly. This includes peers, your supervisors, and those that you supervise. They should be on the calendar and rarely rescheduled.

3. Be objective and self-oriented. The best feedback is pure data. Make observations of specific behaviors. State how that behavior affected you. If it is a desirable behavior, make suggestions of where it could be continued. If it is undesirable, leave it up to your colleague whether or not to stop.

4. Actively invite feedback. Start every feedback conversation with “What feedback do you have for me?” Listen, never interrupt, and never discount a point of feedback - even if it is truly baseless.

5. Use an objective capabilities framework for technical skills. When criticizing technical skills (e.g., the quality of someone’s code) always use an existing quality framework. If your company doesn’t have a coherent set of technical standards for each role, create your own for yourself or members on your team and make it widely available.

These represent my own preferences for how I like to receive feedback, and what I think others have reacted well to in the past. They’re not necessarily universal though, especially across cultures (I’m in the US). I’m curious to hear what others would suggest.

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