When you think about what makes a high-functioning team (whether in person, remote or hybrid) really click, several factors come to mind. In our research for The Long-Distance Teammate, we discovered one of the most important things that contribute to a really solid, trusting, team culture: a constant flow of feedback from and to our colleagues.
Giving is as important as getting
When many of us think “feedback,” we think of the positive and constructive remarks we get from our manager. After all, it’s their job to help us get better at what we do. Generally, we’re open to that feedback because it’s expected. Even if we’re not crazy about what we hear, it’s part of the employer-employee relationship.
But teams that really innovate, include everyone, and are super-productive have a dynamic that lesser teams don’t share. They give frequent feedback to each other, regardless of their position or lack of authority.
Of course, it’s important to define exactly what feedback is. Oxford Dictionary says it’s “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”
The two critical components of feedback
We’re going to suggest there are two key phrases in that definition that are critical to peer feedback.
The first is it’s information. The feedback is based on something very specific. Data is important, especially when giving peer feedback without any kind of official authority. “Good job in that meeting,” is different from, “I liked what you said about the addressing the email problem with the marketing plan.”
Not surprisingly people will accept positive feedback from almost anyone. But if you’re giving corrective feedback, the more data, information, and experience (like case studies) you can provide, the more likely it is to be received.
The second term in that definition is “for improvement.” All feedback, whether positive or critical, is about improving the work of the team as well as the individual. I am always reminded of Socrates’ questions you should ask before speaking. There are five of them:
- Is it true?
- Is it good?
- Is it kind?
- Is it useful?
- Is it necessary?
These definitely apply to giving feedback. In particular, true, kind, and useful are key components of peer to peer feedback. If you’re giving factual, provable (information again) information in a way that is kind and applicable, it’s likely to be received differently than vague, snarky comments that don’t seem to be actionable.
Why should people listen to you?
Even when you have the best of intentions, people often resist feedback that is perceived as negative. AT this point, it’s important to remember that people accept critique from us based on three factors: our position or authority, our expertise, and our relationship with the person.
As a colleague, you probably lack authority. To put it bluntly, people have to listen to their boss, they don’t HAVE to listen to you. So why would they?
This is where the other two reasons come into play. Do you have experience with the subject? Have you been there longer? Have you successfully dealt with the same customer service problem in the past? Your expertise is (if presented properly) of value to the other person. Odds are they want to be better at their job, or make a situation easier.
The most important factor in someone’s willingness (maybe even yours?) to accept feedback is the relationship between the two of you. People will take advice from those they know, like and trust much more willingly than from a complete stranger, or someone where the relationship is tense.
You can build the relationship over time by offering positive feedback first. A “good job,” or “thanks for asking that question, I was wondering the same thing,” can pave the way for more critical input later on. Think about it: if someone you’ve never interacted with and have no existing relationship suddenly tries to tell you how to do your job, how well do you think you’d respond?
If you’re not comfortable offering peer feedback, make a point of sharing good, positive comments with your teammates. Then use Socrates’ questions to frame your feedback, and position it as coming from either expertise or a desire to build the relationship.
If you are approached by a teammate with feedback, take a moment to assess what they say before responding. Odds are they are really trying to help, they may just not be terribly artful in how they made their comment.
Be open to offering and receiving feedback from your colleagues. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it builds strong relationships and helps overcome the challenges of remote and hybrid work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.