Building Team Feedback Literacy

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Feedback literacy is your capacity to effectively give, ask for, seek, receive, use, and process feedback. Developing these capacities takes being in relationship with others; it’s a team sport. Let’s explore how to improve team feedback literacy.

Why team feedback literacy matters

Teams capable of continuously learning from each other are likelier to perform at a high level and have the agility necessary to adapt positively to changing environments. Feedback is the backbone of such learning cultures, and most experts agree that (1) employees need to become expert learners and (2) building such a culture starts with managers.

In such environments, feedback communication is a routine part of daily interactions rather than a special conversation during quarterly performance reviews.

Consider this. In a paper titled, A surprising effect of feedback on learning, researchers stated:

“One group received feedback (i.e., knowledge of performance) the other one did not. We expected learners to improve after they received the first feedback. However, we found that learners expecting feedback used better strategies right from the start.”

In other words, in psychologically safe cultures (shout out to Professor Amy Edmondson’s book The Fearless Organization) where healthy feedback relationships are common, performance will likely increase even before feedback is given. The expectation that feedback will be coming is enough to improve performance.

So, building team feedback literacy matters because it will improve your team’s performance at individual and collective levels.

How to develop team feedback literacy

The longest Module in our free constructive feedback course was Building an Effective Feedback Culture. As feedback literacy is the centerpiece, I recommend you begin there if you want to explore this concept further:

In that Module, and because so many managers are told to “build a feedback culture” without being provided any guidance on how to do it, I recommended starting with this 3-step approach, as shown in the third bulleted point on the left here:

Building a Feedback Culture, part 4: Feedback Culture Exploration. - You have a feedback culture, whether you tend to it or not - Comprehensive feedback training is vital - Even without such training, leaders can a) Co-create a feedback definition, b) Introduce feedback literacy, c) Co-create a feedback literacy development plan - Are employees receiving the feedback they want and need? How do we know? - Are we training employees across our organization how to seek feedback from those outside of our organization so that they are staying at the top of their field? - What feedback training are we providing our new people managers? Are we assuming they have these feedback literacy skills?

Step One

Pull your team together to discuss feedback, not to give and receive it, but to discuss what it is. The goal of this meeting should be to allow everybody’s insights to surface to co-create a feedback definition. You can use my feedback definition, tweak it, or create your own based on what the team comes up with. The critical part here is that your team members feel a sense of ownership and feel in some way connected to the definition.

Step two

Introduce feedback literacy – perhaps leveraging the many frameworks and graphics we’ve used throughout the course, like this one:

Feedback Literacy venn diagram that shows Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Experiential with Feedback Literacy in the center. Intrapersonal: The skills within our own mind, including those involving self-awareness, open-mindedness, and emotional intelligence, serve as the foundation for giving, receiving, and processing feedback. Interpersonal: Relational skills, including those comprising verbal and nonverbal communication, enable practices like active listening that are critical for developing feedback literacy. Experiential: Feedback experiences across our personal and professional lives. Tip: Gain experience by proactively asking for feedback. Feedback Literacy: Our capacity to effectively give, receive, and process feedback.

Step three

Working with each teammate, you can co-create a feedback literacy development plan with them. You might find it helpful to include this as part of an ongoing professional development plan you have with each of your direct reports.

With these three steps, you will have introduced:

  1. The importance of feedback to your team, thereby psychologically priming your team to become feedback givers and receivers (and, based on the study mentioned earlier, this alone could improve their task performance).
  2. Feedback literacy as a term so your teammates can see the various dimensions of it.
  3. Working with each teammate individually so they see feedback literacy as an ongoing part of their professional development.

According to one paper, managers “…do not believe their companies do a good job of providing such feedback.” By improving your team’s feedback literacy as recommended here, you’ll be addressing this issue in a way you have some control over.

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Continue learning

  1. Share the Emotion Behind the Feedback
  2. The Feedback Giver’s Mindset
  3. Schedule Time to Reflect on Positive Feedback