Establishing the feedback loop
The magic words for receiving feedback: curious, open, humble, resilient. If your group management process doesn’t already have dynamic feedback-sharing built in, it may take a little while to get the wheels turning.
Be patient but be persistent. When you, the leader, approach the group with genuine curiosity about how to make things better, and when you keep that as a regular part of conversation you create an environment where people feel that they are valued and that they have an ability to buy-in to the goal: optimizing the group for goal meeting, co-creation, and rewarding experiences for everyone concerned. Also, when regular feedback is part of the group dynamic, group conflict doesn’t throw a monkey-wrench into progress: it’s an established part of making progress.
Remember: “[Feedback is] not always an accurate reflection of who you are — it often isn’t. But it is always an accurate reflection of how you’re perceived. And knowing how you’re perceived is critically important if you want to increase your influence as a leader.”
- Ask for feedback regularly
- Be consistent in asking regularly. Make the ongoing feedback loop an expected part of the group flow.
- Make it clear that you value honesty and that you will not crumble or become enraged if someone says something critical. Then, prove it.
- Be aware of your initial internal reaction and get good at self-regulating. Go ahead and expect that the first few rounds of this may be uncomfortable for everyone, leaders included. Don’t let this inner experience of vulnerability and discomfort shut off your ears. This will take practice for everyone, and it won’t always be uncomfortable if you weave this into the life of the group.
- Read between the lines. You may have to triangulate between several points of diplomatic feedback to get at what people are actually thinking and wanting, particularly if it’s touchy or difficult for them to be direct about.
- Validate, validate, validate. A great way to do this in the moment is to reflect back to them what you have heard them say, to confirm if you have understood their message. You can literally say, “let me repeat that back to you to make sure I’m getting it.”
- Act on what you’ve received. After you are done collecting feedback from the group, put together a plan for what you’re going to do with the information. And then tell the group the plan. This is a great time to reiterate your appreciation for their willingness to go out on what may have been an uncomfortable limb.
- Recognize the stakes. This whole project is a key way to build or keep strong trust in the group. Be impeccable in your words and deliberate in the care you show for the process.
- Delegate the task of feedback collection if you think that, initially, people will truly not be open with you directly. Once everyone knows that you value their thoughts and that you will respond with good nature, openness and a willingness to grow in the interest of the group, you can take the middleman out of the equation.
- Wait until there is a crisis to ask for feedback
- Assume. You may not get honest feedback the first time around. Don’t give up if it takes some concerted, long-term effort to create a sea change in the culture of transparency and openness in the group.
- Ask questions so general that they elicit useless responses. “Good/bad/fine” answers aren’t going to be very helpful in critically shaping the next steps for the group or for leaders. Better responses start with better questions.
- Go into defense mode or interrupt. Either are sure fire ways to shut down the conversation and undermine the trust the respondent has placed in you. Elimate “but” from your response, or better yet, don’t respond unless it’s with gratitude and a deliberate restatement of what you have received. Unnecessary meanderings through your thought process only serve to self-soothe while silencing the person from whom you’ve asked for input.
- Get bogged down in autopsy reports of who did what wrong in the past. This isn’t a bench trial, and feedback isn’t about blame or shame. Stay future-focused and take any criticism you perceive as an opportunity to create a new dynamic next time. Doing this will also put group members in creative brainstorming mode, which is really the sphere of positivity we want to stay in during feedback sessions that might have people feeling a bit vulnerable anyway.
- Forget to say thank you! Asking for and giving honest feedback requires a little bit of bravery from everyone involved. Acknowledge the effort the group is making in coming together in this way, and the mutual benefit that can arise from these check-ins. Of course, sincerity is key.
11 Questions to get feedback flowing:
- What have been some highs and lows for our group over the last period?
- What do you see as our biggest challenge right now?
- Looking back on the month/quarter, is there anything that could have gone better?
- What aspects of our group process can be improved or fixed immediately?
- Is there anything that you need help with or support for in terms of group goals and resources? Anything upcoming that you’re particularly wanting to focus on?
- When do you find your involvement in the group to be the most rewarding?
- Was there a recent group discussion or meeting where you did not get to share all of your thoughts? If so, will you share them now?
- What would you like to see change about the way decisions are made or work is shared in our group?
- Is there anything specific you think we could be doing differently to have better communication and openness as a group?
- As a leader, I’m trying to become ________ in order to ______. Are there any specific thoughts you have on how I might best make that happen?
(**Examples might be: ‘I’m trying to become a more engaging speaker so that our group meetings are more energetic and timely’, or ‘I’m trying to learn more about effective fundraising so that our growth campaigns are more successful in the future’, etc)
- What are some growth areas that you see for our group? What are 3 things we could aim for moving forward?