This is a rather advanced feedback exercise. It can become very awkward for inexperienced teams and get dangerous if not controlled properly. Sometimes the line between a genuinely positive transformation and a complete morale destruction is very thin. However, it is very powerful. All teams, even those which seem in perfect harmony at first sight, have their little bugs. Those little bugs may not seem worth addressing. Sometimes, it even feels like an overkill to discuss them as they can generate what it may be perceived as unnecessary unrest for a perfectly functioning team. I beg to differ. In my experience, those little things will become bigger and become unmanageable if not addressed early.
Here’s what you need:
As any other feedback exercise, it is always good to provide the group with a private space where they can feel protected and relaxed. Ideally with no tables but with comfortable seats. Consider doing it outside the office, such as in a park, the beach or the terrace of their favourite coffee shop but keep in mind that it will work best when they don’t feel exposed to external people. For this exercise we will organise the group in a semicircle shape with one member in the middle, taking turns. Make sure the space allows for it. It is important to state that everything shared during the session will be kept private within the group.
The drivers of this format are 2 sentences, one to express positive feelings and another describing negative emotions. It is very important that the sentences clearly state the subjects me and you. This will make it personal and will help the individuals to address each other while sharing the feedback.
It (helps/motivates/delights/pleases) me when you … because …
It (bothers/frustrates/demotivates/harms) me when you … because …
Make sure the clause because is always present and included in the feedback. The reasons behind the feedback are indispensable to drive true positive change. The recipient needs to understand the impact of their behaviour.
If somebody just says “It bothers me when you are late in the morning” without explaining why that behaviour is worth changing, it will be hard for the recipient to understand the problem and make the personal investment that takes to make true change. Why is arriving late a problem at all? Is it because we depend on that person to perform our job and we need to sync? Is it because it breaks the team’s agreement and we really care about rules? Is it because we make an effort to turn up on time and we expect the same from others? or is it because we love that person so much that makes us sad when they aren’t around?
As you can see, words and format are very important and it is important to be somewhat strict. You can cut some slack to those that struggle to find the appropriate feeling in the list but apart from that try to respect the existing sentence, otherwise it could lose strength and not be as effective. The point of this exercise it to force participants to share things that aren’t easy to share in a normal conversation. It is a good idea to acknowledge beforehand that the exercise is somehow rigid and that we shouldn’t take the resulting sentences literally.
Pen and paper
Prepare pen and paper for everyone and encourage them to take notes while they receive the feedback. Is usually interesting to focus on those things that are surprising or unexpected. In the end, gaining new information about how you come across is of most value.
It can help to place a box of tissues in the middle of the semicircle to show that it is totally ok to get emotional. You can also explicitly mention it during the introduction of the exercise.
How it works
Form a semicircle with all team members. Find a volunteer who wants to go first and that person will sit in the middle of the semicircle becoming the recipient for the first round of feedback. Whenever someone is ready to share feedback, it will do so by stating the 2 sentences and filling the gaps with their own words.
Depending on the group, it may help if you demonstrate the exercise by providing feedback yourself to the team or to a particular person. Show yourself vulnerable and admit how difficult this is for you too.
The goal of this exercise is for the participants to give honest feedback face-to-face. It is important that they give feedback which refers to the actions and behaviour of the recipient. Do not mix the individual feedback and the team feedback and stop discussions around changing behaviour that respond to a team agreement in place. That feedback should be handled at the team level.
Continue going around the semicircle until all participants share their 2 sentences with the recipient. Allow for the recipient to take notes and ask clarifying questions, nothing else. It is not the time to respond to the feedback provided. Encourage them to discuss the feedback received with the different individuals at a separate time.
Once everybody shared their feedback, the recipient will take a few minutes to review their notes and share their thoughts with the group.
Repeat this process for every team member.
Appreciate everyone’s participation, acknowledging how hard it is to open up and share personal opinions face-to-face. Encourage everyone to discuss topics at their own convenience and remind that all content should be kept private.