In our “top ten” list of characteristics that define high-performing teams, providing appreciative and constructive feedback is always a tough one to actualize. When it comes to appreciative feedback that recognizes a job well done and seeks to encourage repeat behavior, many people dismissively figure that “it goes without saying” or “no news is good news” or “I don’t have time for that.” Constructive feedback, which seeks to change negative behavior or performance, is actively avoided with excuses such as “I don’t know how” or “I don’t like confrontation” or “if I wait long enough, maybe the problem will go away.” However, if you want a high-performing team, you have to tackle feedback head on because feedback is what makes teams productive, efficient, and motivated.
People who find their work meaningful throw themselves into it 100%. They are engaged and motivated. They are innovative and hard-working. They are positive and energized. Studies have shown that recognition for a job well done is one of the key factors that makes work meaningful. Right there, you see the criticality of making appreciative feedback a characteristic of your team.
That being said, you need to go beyond just saying, “Great work!” Vague commendations don’t carry any weight with people. Appreciative feedback is effective when it specifies what was done, why it was important, and how it impacts the team. For example:
- What was done: “That experiment you designed was well-thought out and well-executed. I appreciated your attention to detail in how you designed the controls.”
- Why it was important: “Because you thought through that experiment so carefully and managed it so well, we were able to cut two weeks from our projected timeline and save money since we didn’t have to perform additional experiments.”
- How it impacts the team: “I am excited about what this means for the success of our project!”
If your team is not performing at the level you would like, assess how well your team members are at giving each other appreciative feedback. Chances are, you are missing out on a quick win: giving appreciative feedback takes less than a minute, as you can see from the above example, and it makes both the giver and the receiver feel great!
Constructive feedback, which points out and seeks to change negative behavior, is uncomfortable to both give and receive. There is no getting around that fact. Regardless, constructive feedback must take place if you want a high-performing team. As with appreciative feedback, constructive feedback is effective when you specify what was done, why it was important, and how it impacts the team. For example:
- What was done: “I’ve noticed that your inability or unwillingness to execute your priorities have kept us, as a team, from hitting our goals for three quarters in a row now.”
- Why it was important: “This is hurting our business because we are not executing on mission-critical issues, which in turn is hurting our efficiencies and profitability.”
- How it impacts the team: “You’re letting us down as a team because we sink or swim together.”
When giving constructive feedback, you want to be open and honest, acting with dignity and treating the other person with respect. Your words and actions should communicate that you are concerned with improving the performance of the team for the greater good of the business – it should never be a “gotcha” moment. In fact, in the above example, the person giving the feedback ended with, “How can we support you to make this better?”
For more detailed information on giving constructive feedback, read this blog on the topic.
Ken Blanchard wisely noted, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” As you consider where your team is at today and where you would like it to be, bear the following in mind:
- Giving and receiving feedback must be modeled from the top. As with every behavior, if you want to see it, you have to live it. It is up to you as the team leader to create a culture where openness, honesty, and respect are practiced and valued.
- Giving and receiving feedback requires intentionality. Whether your team meets face to face or virtually, you will all need to commit to providing appreciative and constructive feedback. It won’t happen automatically – feedback takes thought and effort.