Feeding feedback

Stating

Feedback is a controversial process and one that was completely rejected within a recent session in our team.  The issue is how to imbed feedback into our team as a learning tool and create an environment where we feel comfortable to give and receive feedback within the team. This was a process, that as a team, we did not want to engage in and during the specific feedback session, it was a highly emotionally charged atmosphere. Whilst members felt their feedback was honest and considered, there was a real block in terms of utilising it as a tool due to negative preconceptions, feeling constrained by the model suggested to us and a sense of fear surrounding member’s reactions. Moreover, there was a stark contrast between my engagement with the task and the rest of my team mates; a few refused to participate at all.

Feedback I received:

Elliot

Stop

  • Rambling too long in discussions.
  • Doing so much work in comparison to the rest in terms of article reading.

Start

  • Being more precise with your ideas and concepts – deliver the headlines.
  • Listen to other people’s opinions about your ideas more.

Continue

  • Being organised and efficient
  • Being a planner and getting the team organised
  • Helping the team out with assignments, seminars and things they don’t know.

Alice

Stop

  • You know too much and it can be overwhelming to those who don’t know anything; this can worry people or demotivate.
  • Bombarding with information, it is too much to take in.

Start

  • Working on your communication skills, improving your ability to be concise and clear when presenting information – you’re already doing this!

Continue

  • You are very approachable and will help anyone, I feel very comfortable approaching you when I don’t understand things outside class. You explain things very well.
  • You organise and direct the team – reminding everyone of deadlines and setting agendas.

Dean

Stop

  • Using so much detail – sometimes less is more.
  • Doubting yourself – your experience is useful.

Start

  • You are a strong leader; time to start leading.

Continue

  • You put 110% into everything- it is inspiring.
  • Organising the team and forcing us to plan before-hand.
  • Using your experience.

Katie

Stop

  • She can sometimes go into too much detail, so the team loses the key points to holding on to.

Start

  • Being more concise.

Continue

  • Producing high standards of work individually and within the team; you always meet the deadlines.
  • Being really enthusiastic and motivating.
  • Being a very reliable team member.
  • Organising and structuring our meetings.

Deconstruction

Starting with the difference between my view of the feedback task and the team’s; feedback used to be a process I’d avoid. I perceived it as wholly negative making evaluative judgements of others or inviting negative judgements of myself. Moreover, I considered that I wasn’t within a position of any authority to give feedback and I viewed the process as unconstructively criticising. Consequently, I’d take feedback personally and I’d typically give a defensive response, deflecting it and justifying the behaviour without listening. If I gave feedback, I’d likely apologise for it and worry about upsetting the other person, reflecting my own views of feedback.

As I’ve progressed through my education and career, I’ve repeatedly encountered feedback as an unavoidable process and one that delivers the opportunity to improve and enhance self-awareness. I’ve developed a sense of self-acceptance and ownership of the consequences of my behaviour. Feedback has rationally become a personal development and communication tool and one that I see positively with the sole purpose of enhancing performance, an inarguably positive thing.  After all, you cannot change or continue doing what as an individual or team, you are unaware of.

Feedback, alongside reflection, has become a tool in which teams I have been involved with have rebuilt and enhanced their performance; learning at one unit as well as individually. One of the reasons many of my teams initially struggled was because they did not know why they were failing, regular feedback and reflection, gave the opportunity to assess and identify issues and deviations from plans (Bee 1998).  As such feedback became a non-threatening tool in which we could explore successes and communicate areas of development, all united under the goal of enhancing performance. Furthermore, I personally utilised this process as a way of improving and reflecting on my own performance and it was this feedback process within these teams that developed the leadership skills I have today. I always invite feedback on a regular basis, with the aim of imbedding it into any team’s culture.

Feedback became an essential tool in the identification of my lack of team playing during competitive tasks.  I used to simply focus on outcomes and team performance, above team learning. I received the feedback that if tasks weren’t being done to my specification, I took over the task ensuring the performance, instead of supporting the team to reach required standards. This led to team dependence on me and the lack of communication surrounding why I was taking over, was demotivating. However, I perceived I was only doing my best for the team.  Receiving the feedback that I was behaving in this way and the effect, enabled my own learning that I needed to give more initial guidance, but then more autonomy and to give feedback regularly instead of simply taking over a struggling task without communication. Engaging in the process was initially difficult, but this two way dialogue built a better team, one that made mistakes and learnt from them and made me a more effective leader.

Consequently, I viewed the team task to give one another feedback as a learning opportunity and I found it the least difficult within the group. Unlike the others I didn’t have an emotional response and viewed it as simply learning. The feedback regarding my struggle to present information in a concise manner has been brought to my attention before within the team. I know that it can cause disengagement or confusion and I experience personal frustration with myself for not effectively communicating. However, Ali’s feedback that I can “worry” people and bombard with information, was an effect I was unaware of and is clearly demotivating for some members. As such, I see this as a real area of opportunity in which I can improve on within the team.

Conversely it was positive to see that my strengths are being recognised; organisation, planning, motivating and hard work; that I’m adding value and a unique layer to our team dynamics. In terms of the feedback, I gave to the other members, I spent time making it justifiable with examples and I didn’t feel nervous to share it. I saw it as an opportunity to recognise certain members, who seem completely unaware that they are such a valuable contribution to the group. People like Ali, who underestimate and show a distinct lack of confidence in their own abilities, but yet get out there and always give things ago, try new things and add real value to our team projects, alongside the opportunity to be honest.

I can only deconstruct my own feedback experience fully and I can only make assumptions about why I believe the team rejected the feedback task. As a collective, our team rejected the process, with many members refusing to take part or exhibiting very defensive responses. Moreover, whilst the feedback was justified with examples, there was a distinct amount of back tracking and disowning the feedback via blaming the lecturer for forcing them do it. The process pre and post feedback was incredibly emotional, with members very worried that others were going to be upset or they may get upset. After the process, there was a sense of heightened emotion, dismissiveness towards the structure and that something unwarranted had been imposed. The dismissal seemed to stem not from the content of the feedback, as every member communicated within a following team meeting that they stood by what they had written, but the structured process it was being forced into was unrealistic.

However, as a collective, the exercise was useful to highlight key areas of behaviour that we identified with as part of our team identity and things we wanted to improve on (Harms and Roebuck 2010). Consequently, the feedback was tool for our team to explore the behaviours we’d like to see exploited and the behaviours we’d like to remove, as such the process further cemented the foundations of our team “culture” (Harms and Roebuck 2010:414). Subsequently, the team saw value in the feedback process as a learning tool, but the structure and negative preconceptions made it ineffective for our team.

Theorising

The team’s initial difficulty the majority identified it as a negative process, instead of as an opportunity to capitalize on strengths and develop weaknesses (Gratton 2008). Many individuals consider feedback “irritating” and negative (Harms and Roebuck 2009); consequently we are conditioned to see it as a critical tool highlighting negative behaviour. However Harms and Roebuck, consider that feedback must be used constantly to explore team culture, giving praise and highlighting ineffective behaviours, with the aim of improving performance (2009:416). Feedback within the team should only be the starting point of a dialogue and in order to add value it needs to be combined with self-reflection, providing information and support to an individual (Harms and Roebuck 2010). Our team feedback lacked the two way dialogue as individuals didn’t respond to feedback honestly as felt constrained by a structure, consequently dismissing the process before reflection occurred and mutual agree was only reached superficially because the model of feedback imposed agreement.

Moreover, as a team we proved Cleveland et al’s (2007) hypothesis that giving performance feedback is more difficult than receiving. There was a distinct anxiety about giving feedback, as it was viewed as unproductive and critical but conversely each member was willing to receive it. The struggle featured not only in the compiling of the feedback but also the delivery, in which members back tracked on comments. However, the team was willing to hand over the full feedback sheets afterwards, demonstrating the team was not comfortable making evaluative comments in a face to face forum (Fredrick T. 2008). This suggests our team has a lack of psychological safety and feared retribution disabling the feedback process (Hills 2001); consequently as a team we need to concentrate on building trust into our team culture so we can own it.

Our team unwillingness to engage, negates feedback as a crucial element of effective team learning, as such we need to accept it; ensuring that it is frequent, timely and imbedded into the review of performance within a team is not only the cornerstone to learning but the cornerstone to improved team performance (Harms and Roebuck 2010). As a collective, if we tackle the lack of trust within the team, which should develop over time as we concentrate developing our team culture and normalise the process, the team will be more willing to engage.

The next issue to address was the imposed structure and the difficulties surround it. The structure that was suggested to us within our feedback session:

feedback

The above visual depiction combines elements of Arnold et al (2010) and Hills (2001) writings on feedback. As a model in theory, it clearly structures the feedback, gives the process a clear purpose and ensures a two way dialogue. However, the model constrained our team and disengaged the majority of members from the process. The unnatural aspect of it and the rigid structure, stopped the fluidity of feedback in which, individuals are supposed to be able to reflect, respond and reject if they wish. The model turned an alien process to many, into a highly artificial process. Consequently, this model of feedback delivery, whilst it has merit, is not practical within our team.

Our team whilst wanting a structure for the feedback process wants flexibility and ability to make it into our own. Furthermore, we want a model that does not necessarily seek agreement at the end of the feedback process, but one that focuses on communication and reflection. Foster (2002: 112) feedback models embody all the elements of feedback as outlined by other academics, but they are simpler and less prescriptive. Foster (2002) depicts two feedback models, which concentrate on feedback as a positive learning tool; the two models are “BET – behaviour, effect and thank you, in which positive behaviours can be recognised. The second model is “BEAR-Behaviour, effect, alternative and result” in which negative behaviour can be presented to a participant, the effects communicated and the result is that the behaviour is reflected upon (Foster 2002). These models whilst directing the feedback, giving clear stages concentrating on the effects of the behaviour, allow participants to frame the interaction how they chose and it doesn’t force any conclusion or agreement; focusing on communication and reflection as their aims (Foster 2002).

Having the two models run side by side, engages with the idea that feedback should be predominantly about positive reinforcement, in which 75% of all feedback should be positive (Harms and Roebuck 2010). The “Bear” model has two different stages, surrounding alternative and result (Foster 2002). As such alternative modes of action can be suggested and the results of not changing outlined, but the recipient in this model, is left with the final choice.  As such these feedback models don’t exist to forcibly change behaviour or to induce superficial agreement through a restrictive structure, but to communicate, increase self-awareness and improve team learning (Foster 2002). Regardless of whether, the receiver choses to act on the feedback, they are now aware of the effects of their behaviour within the team and they can make a more informed choice surrounding how to behave. Consequently, “blind spots are eliminated” (Harms and Roebuck 2010: 422). Moreover, this model encourages a natural and honest response from the receiver, which is enabled through freedom and flexibility (Lake 1997).

Construction

The team rejection of feedback is a stumbling block within our team learning. But it is clear from the deconstruction above, why the team has rejected it, surrounding the two issues of viewing it as a distinctly negative process and one in which, a rigid, false structure was suggested to our team, one that didn’t suit us. Subsequently, using Foster’s BET and BEAR models, gives our team the opportunity to engage in feedback in the way we want to, focusing on communication and reflection, whilst utilising it as a mode of communicating predominantly positive behaviour.

In order to further imbed the process of feedback into our team learning culture, we need to embrace it as a regular and continuous process, featuring weekly in our team meetings as a reflective and reflexive tool, normalising the process (Hatton 2007). It is a tool that potentially enhances and steers team learning, communicating the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us (Armstrong 2006). This can only be a positive process focusing on improving performance, as illustrated with the feedback I received about my poor verbal presentation of ideas, I knew this was an issue but was unaware of the effect of it on members of the team. As such we intend to embody Arnold et al’s (2010) view of feedback as something that is mutually supportive, informative, constructing a stronger group and recognising accomplishment.

Furthermore, we need to confidently own the interactions as a positive method of improving performance, instead of disowning it as something we are being forced to do within coaching sessions, lessening its impact (Hatton 2007). Such ownership will embody our aims to become a “learning team” (Hills 2001); one that embraces feedback. Consequently, we need to deepen our team trust and believe in Foster’s models as an effective way to improve team performance and one that recognises we are all individuals with different levels of feedback receptiveness (Armstrong 2006). Consequently, we should assess the capacity to digested feedback; Bee 1998 draws upon the idea that some members will only take thimbles of feedback on board at a time, whereas other members will happily accept bucket loads of it. Subsequently Foster’s models don’t force agreement, leaving the individual with a choice.

Finally, reflecting on my personal feedback, I think I need to consider why I find the process of presenting information back into the group difficult and to research communication strategies to counteract this, to avoid demotivating and disengaging the team. Furthermore, it is a hugely positive step that the team see me as someone who shares back their learning and helps when others don’t understand, as this is truly exemplifying team learning culture and ethos, our team is trying to establish.

Armstrong, M. (2006) Performance Management. (3rd ed) London:Kogan Page

Arnold, J., Randall, R. et al. (2010). Work Psychology. (5th ed.). Harlow:Pearson

Bee et al. (1998) Constructive Feedback. London: Institute of personal development

Cleveland, J. N. et al (2007) Feedback phobia? Why employers do not want to give or receive performance feedback. In J. Langan- Fox, C. L. Cooper & R. J. Klimoski (Eds.), Research companion to the dysfunctional workplace:management challenges and symptoms (pp. 168-186). Northampton, M A: Edward Elgar

Foster, P. (2002). Performance documentation. Business Communication Quarterly, 65, 108-114

Fredrick T. (2008). Facilitating better teamwork: Analyzing the challenges and strategies of classroom based collaboration. Business Communication Quarterly, 71, 439-455.

Gratton, L. (2008) Counterpoint. People and Strategy, 31 (3), 9.

Harms, P. L., & Roebuck, D. (2010). Teaching the Art and Craft of Giving and Receiving Feedback. Business Communication Quarterly, 73(4), 413-431

Hatton, A. The Definitive Business Pitch. Harlow: FT Prentice Hall

Hills, H. (2001) Team-Based Learning, Hampshire: Gower Publishing.

Lake, C. (1997) Open Learning – Communication. Oxford: Pergamon Open Learning

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