Giving and receiving feedback is a difficult task but it is also extremely important for any team. For a while I didn’t realise that giving feedback that wasn’t good enough, might actually be pointless or even lead to frustration.
There is an excellent team exercise that illustrates the case.
- Sit a team member on a chair and give them a set of tennis balls (the more the better).
- Place a bucket behind the person (best at an angle), so they can’t see it.
- Ask the person to throw the balls behind them one by one (without looking), so the balls end up in the bucket.
Now, consider following scenarios:
- Scenario 1: The person gets no feedback at all, but is still expected to place the balls in the bucket.
- Scenario 2: Very negative feedback (i.e. ‘that was useless!’) is given when the balls miss the bucket.
- Scenario 3: Very positive feedback (i.e. ‘well done, keep trying!’) is given even when the balls miss the bucket.
- Scenario 4: Constructive feedback (i.e. ‘a little bit more to the left’) is given at any time.
Now ask the person how did it feel.
In Scenario 1, it’s a pure lottery. The person does not have any chance to improve.
Scenario 2 is actually very frustrating. The person is trying hard but the effort is only criticised. If you try that for long enough, the person might get annoyed and refuse participating further.
Scenario 3 is not much better. It is definitely motivating but not helping. Giving only positive feedback is not enough to improve!
Scenario 4 illustrates the best way of giving feedback – informative and honest. Feedback that will help adjust next steps, so eventually the goal can be reached.
From now on, I am going to ask myself before giving feedback – is it going to help the other person or is it just words?