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Giving Feedback - A Worse Than Useless Idea

February 17, 2015

making judgement, aka giving feedback 

One of the favorite activities of HR departments seems to be herding people into teamwork trainings. In these trainings they will have endure learning about all sorts of ideas related to teamwork. Most of them with no scientific validity. Learning to give feedback to other team members has its sure place in sessions like these.

We also have the common practice of managers giving feedback to employees. This is a particularly toxic version of the feedback idea.

I guess that the belief is that it all will contribute to better teamwork and performance. It does not though.

The whole idea of giving feedback to others actually prevents any type of progress towards collaboration.

If you are interested in agile ways of working, this is something to think about. Most agile ideas are based on increased collaboration...


Why Give Feedback?

The way I see it, the idea is often that:



  • You will bring to the attention of others how they have behaved/performed.

  • After receiving your helpful feedback, they will then be able to improve. In the direction that you so graciously have identified.


Thus, the feedback is about the other person. You tell them how things are so that they can alter their behaviour. Great idea!



So What Is So Wrong With That?

Many things...many things...I'll focus on one aspect below:



From Team Facilitation Point of View

The problem is the mindset commonly associated with giving feedback. I perceive it like this:



  • The way I percieive reality is the right one!

  • I will now educate you on what the truth is! That is a one way process!


In the research of Argyris and Schön, we find a similar mindset called "Unilateral Control Mindset":



  • I understand the situation; those that see it differently do not

  • I am right; those that disagree are wrong

  • I have pure motives; thiose that disagree have questionable motives


Pretty similar, isn't it! For me, the way "feedback" is most often used, is deeply rooted in the mindset of unilateral control.

If so, how would that affect things in a Scrum/Agile team or in an agile organization?



"It would prevent any sort of progress when it comes to collaboration!"

Wow! And that is the opinion of master facilitator Roger Schwarz. Author of "The Skilled Facilitator", the standard textbook for team facilitation.

In his book Schwarz dismisses the unilateral control model. Instead he bases his facilitation approach on the quite different "Mutual Learning model".



The Mindset Of Collaboration

Some assumptions in the Mutual Learning model are



  • I have some information; others have other information

  • Each of us may see things the other do not

  • Differences are opportunities for learning

  • People are trying to act with integrity given their situations


According to Schwarz, when acting from these assumptions, true collaboration, synergy and growth is possible.

So, what is the difference? A key difference is that with this mindset you do not assume that you understand the full picture. You accept the fact that in a complex environment, such as a team or an organization, for one person to know what the "truth" is not possible. Instead you focus on learning.

So, please stop giving feedback/passing judgement on others. It does not matter if the "feedback" is good or bad.



You do not have the full picture, pretending you do is both silly and unproductive.



My Take On It

So, what to do then? Communication and collaboration is great. It is just that giving feedback is not the way to achieve that!

Here are some alternatives that have worked well for me:



  • Make sure that you know what the needs of people in your environment are.

    • What do your teammates want to experience, learn, achieve etc?

    • What would make them feel that working together is worth their time and full attention?


  • Take responsibility for making your own needs known

  • Take responsibility for that the way you work adresses the needs of the people around you

  • Engage in dialogue. Do not give feedback.




Note that these are all focused on you. Your learning, your needs and what you can do. So, if this does not work out, you know who to talk to... ;-)

Good luck, and if you have any feedback on this know what to do with it ;-)

(Sent it to me that is, in the comments field, for mutual learning...;-)






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