3. Organisations Improve Through Effective Feedback
Feedback is a critical ingredient of continuous improvement
For Agile Leaders, the emphasis in this principle is the word effective (Organisations Improve Through Effective Feedback). Even when feedback has been given, much of it goes unheeded and this is due in part to ineffective delivery. The openness of the recipient is also an important factor although an effective leader will be able to work with the defensiveness of their colleagues in most cases.
Being the Model Leader
Principle 1 states that it is important for the Agile Leader to “be the change” for their colleagues. They can do this by demonstrating their willingness to receive and act upon feedback. Feedback is requested continually and not just when things are going well but, even more importantly, when things haven’t gone so well. It’s when plans or intentions haven’t produced the desired or expected outputs that leaders need to become more curious to discover what happened. Whilst it takes courage, this is a good way to demonstrate to colleagues what an Agile Leader would expect from others.
Two Models of Feedback
In any organisation there will be a spectrum of feedback (which will inevitably vary by department and by leader) – this diagram highlights the two ends of that feedback spectrum: The Agile Leader will introduce opportunities for continuous and open feedback, using the Virtuous Circle as their model.
What is effective feedback?
Effective feedback is defined as that which makes a meaningful difference either in the behaviours or thinking of individuals or teams who have received the feedback. It’s about helping others to develop their blind spot or Blind Area2 in the Johari window shown here.
To that end, there are certain things the Agile Leader can do to improve the effectiveness of the feedback they deliver. One is to make sure the team receives feedback on all levels, such as providing task and procedural feedback (“how we did in the task”) as well as relational feedback (“how we got on while performing the task”).
Feedback forms an integral part of the learning process. Agile Leaders make opportunities to improve the learning of their teams by giving feedback. Giving feedback at an individual level is a common occurrence, but not as frequent at the team level.
This is an example of how the Agile Leader can work effectively as a coach for their team; to act as a mirror for the team to reflect on themselves. Giving and receiving feedback strengthens trust between team members as their shared goal becomes bigger than individual or group concerns. As a result, performance is enhanced in teams where there is good communication and understanding of what they are working on and how they can get better
What about Receiving Feedback?
Feedback is a two-way communication process and sometimes the feedback will be given to someone who is unreceptive. One of the major impediments to organisational improvement is the leader who is closed off to feedback and is too concerned with self-preservation [Argyris].3
As Principle 1 outlines, Agile Leaders need to embody the change they want to see in the organisation. This means that as part of their personal development they need to become aware of how and when they are becoming defensive as well as being able to spot it in others. Being defensive leaves a leader closed to hearing feedback that could help them. Quite often a tough truth is a hard one to hear but is one that can help.
How can you ensure your receiving and giving effective feedback?
- As a senior leader you can regularly engage in ‘town hall’ style meetings where members of staff can ask any question they wish.
- In retrospectives set aside time for ‘honest john’ questions, or for team members to raise issues.
- Ensure you are continually giving team and individual feedback in a factual, non-confrontational way.
- Have an open door policy, and ensure everyone is aware of this.
- If you feel there is some issue bubbling under the surface, do not be afraid to call it out and get to the truth.
If you want to get better at unearthing what’s really going on with people and improving the transparency and quality of feedback, you may be interested in this:
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