Growing by Obtaining More Frequent and Transparent Team Feedback

As leaders, we rely on obtaining frequent and transparent feedback from our team members both for personal and organizational growth.

Constructive feedback not only helps us make better-informed strategic and operational decisions, but it also helps foster a culture of open communication.

And as most leaders know, it’s a lot easier said than done.

So what are a few things leaders should consider when working at drawing out more quality feedback from your team?

Have You Built Trust?

Trust is the foundation of any successful feedback exchange, and team members must feel secure and confident in sharing their thoughts and concerns with you.

If team members are worried about your reaction or if they're worried about what's going to happen to them after they share what they have to share with you, then they're just not going to do it. Or they might do it a couple of times and then be like, “What's the point?” So you really want to make sure that you are not contributing to that.

And it starts with open, considered communication. Not unfiltered truths. Open communication doesn't mean you just say whatever you want, whichever way you want, under the guise of “Hey, I'm being transparent.”

You want to establish a pattern of communication that is transparent and open, but also thoughtful and productive. Look at how you’re talking with team members, the words that you use, the tone, the environment that you are creating when they're sharing information with you.

Ensure that team members feel that they can approach you at any time to discuss their concerns without fear of how this will come back to bite them further down the road. If they're sitting there mulling over what's going to happen to them and how potentially you're going to make them pay for it, they're not going to tell you what they need to tell you or they're going to cushion it so much that the message is not going to come across. So it's really important that you really make them feel like, “Hey, yes, you can come talk to me.”

I've mentioned in the past that there are some days when we're just so overwhelmed, so busy, so stressed out that it feels like if one more person comes in with one more thing, you're just going to explode. But you can't let them feel that if they're coming to you. Remember that it took a lot of courage for them to talk to you. Remember that positional power. I don't care how nice you are, how good of a leader you are, how welcoming and tactful you are, you are still technically, positionally “the boss”. You still have that power of firing and consequences over them. Again, it's not a reflection on the type of leader you are – unless they're truly terrified and you're tyrannical and yelling and being like, “Yeah, you're going to pay for this” and then giving them all the crappy projects. That's a whole other issue. But even a leader who is the kindest, sweetest, most amazing, thoughtful leader is still a “boss”. And that means that even though you may have gained enough trust for them to open up to you, they likely still will hold some things back because of that power. That’s just a reality. And you have to accept that they will not confide in you the way they will confide in friends. They may confide up to a certain point if you really earned their trust, but they're still going to hold a few things back.

Knowing this, how do you make sure that they open up as much as possible so that you can have as much information as possible? You want that information. And so it really is that idea of active listening. When team members share their feedback, are you truly listening or are you off in your world pretending that you're listening and preparing really to tell them that they're wrong or preparing your counter-arguments? Is that what you're doing while they're talking? That's not active listening. So really practice active listening. Clear your mind when they're talking.

And it's not easy. I know, because my tendency is actually more to go off in solutions-land. So I'm not so much trying to counter their argument as I am trying to solve the problem and while I'm off solving the problem, I'm missing some vital information. So that's actually something that I work on consistently because I know that what I have to do is not try to come up with solutions on the spot. It's just listening, taking in all the information that I can.

You figure out what it is that you need to work on. But active listening is essential, and it's really about understanding their perspective fully before responding, or at least striving to.

I know that there's a breakdown in communication when people talk to each other. It's what the person is trying to say and what I'm interpreting and what they're saying and how I'm filtering it through my own mind. But at least if we try to understand as much as we can before responding, then that is more leaning into that active listening. And I'm not saying that it means that you'll always agree, but at least you're validating their input and you're showing that you respect their point of view in terms of them presenting their professional opinion. And that's what it comes down to.

What Do You Do with the Feedback?

Obtaining feedback is just the beginning.

Then, it's about how you handle the feedback that you receive. That is just as important.

Think about your actions in general. When a team member shares feedback with you, how do you act after? Do you tend to show that you valued the feedback by taking action on the input you've received in the past? Do you tend to argue with them? Do you tend to use empty words of praise and then act in a way that dismisses what others are trying to tell you?

I know it's hard. It's no fun, right? You don't want to look at yourself and be like, “How did I contribute to this problem?” But we have to. It is essential if we're going to truly move forward as a team.

And if we really want to get to that place where team members are sharing the feedback frequently and with quality with us as transparently as possible. So it's not just about being willing to listen, it's also about being willing to make changes based on the feedback.

As I mentioned earlier, you won't always necessarily agree with it, which also means that you will not always follow the advice of all the feedback, but there will typically be some form of action.

The first one would probably be analyzing the feedback in depth. Truly considering it. And then it's going to be creating some concrete actions to address the feedback.

When doing this, think back a little bit. Are there common themes in the feedback? Are there areas that require immediate attention? So those would be things that you would address first or more immediately. If you have feedback that will have, let's say, a more immediate impact on revenue or clients or quality of service delivered, then you want to address that more quickly, and you want to come up with a plan to address that feedback first.

But even if you don't agree with the feedback, and there are very valid reasons, not just because it's your opinion and you feel differently, therefore you're dismissing it. That's not what I'm saying. Let's say you don't agree with it for very valid reasons, you have more information. Well, the action might be needing to explain further, needing to present more information. That could be the action that you would attach to that particular type of feedback. But we want to create some concrete action items to address that feedback. Maybe it's just presenting more data, explaining why we can't act on it. There may be some valid reasons why we can't, as long as you make sure that it's not just an excuse.

And if you find yourself consistently needing to explain the feedback away, I would start questioning whether you're communicating enough with the team and maybe also whether you're struggling to admit where you went wrong. So if you find yourself consistently having to explain, explore those two aspects, and I know it's no fun, but we have to look at ourselves.

If we want to grow as leaders and we want to do what's best for the team, and we want to do what's best for the organization, it requires a lot of introspection.

Have You Implemented a Culture That Embraces Healthy Conflict?

It's one thing to say that you want a culture that embraces healthy conflict, and it's quite another to actually do it. And you know what? It's the leader's behavior that dictates that.

It's no secret. Healthy conflict can lead to better decision-making. So it's essential to ensure that the culture actually encourages constructive debates, encourages disagreements, and does not dissuade them based on how the conversation unfolds or how it ends.

So are the interactions respectful? Is the communication constructive?

We want to encourage team members to express their opinions as long as it remains professional and respectful. None of these venting sessions. Maybe we'll give them a pass for a minute or two. If it's something that's really difficult and maybe they had to gather all the courage that they had, every little bit of courage, to come to you, and the venting is actually masking a form of fear, then okay, give them a little bit.

But if it starts being attacking and venting, then no, we need to start resetting that conversation because that is not professional or respectful. And as always, you have to look at yourself as the leader. How are you behaving? Are you behaving in a manner that is making the conversation devolve? Or are you actually navigating it in a manner that is relatively calm and measured? Are you contributing to escalating the issue or are you actually deescalating it? And I'm not saying it's going to be perfect all the time, but just generally speaking how does it end when you have these deep conflict-filled conversations? Does everybody walk away frustrated? Does everybody need hours of break after because it just went so badly? If so, then I would dare say that maybe you could use a little bit of training in conflict resolution, but it's not just about learning frameworks and here are the questions to ask and all that stuff. It's really about working on yourself internally as a leader so that you can build up the skills to be able to use those frameworks properly.

Because if you don't build up the skills and you just use the frameworks, it's not going to work because you don't have the skills yet to be able to use those frameworks. So really make sure that you work on those skills.

And when leading discussions, don't just rely on mechanisms. It's really about hearing what people are saying and guiding the discussion to discover what the person is trying to communicate. Encourage everyone to work together to find this common ground and find common solutions. And sometimes that means working together to find a solution that hasn't been presented yet. And, in my experience, those are usually the best ones when we really push for that additional option. Something that hasn't come up yet. It's like, let's all put our heads together now that we have all these solutions. What else could be out there? A very high percentage of the time, it works extremely well. So try to do that.

Keep Practicing and the Feedback Will Come

Obtaining more frequent and transparent team feedback is an ongoing process that requires continuous effort. It starts with building trust, progresses through the effective use of feedback, and thrives in a culture that embraces healthy conflict.

As a leader, it's your responsibility to create an environment where your team feels valued, heard, and empowered. And you must lead by example. Be open to feedback from your team and acknowledge when you make mistakes. And once you’ve identified the actions related to the feedback, share it with your team. Keeping the team informed shows that their feedback is valued and acted upon.

Keep practicing these principles, and the feedback will flow naturally. With the right approach, you'll foster a culture of continuous improvement and teamwork, ultimately leading to personal and organizational growth.


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