How to Leverage Peer-to-Peer Feedback

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While generally underutilized, leveraging peer-to-peer feedback in the workplace can improve deliverable quality, promote team feedback literacy, and free up space for increasingly burned-out middle managers. Some studies suggest that receiving feedback from a few of your peers is more effective than receiving feedback from your leader.

Most research on peer-to-peer feedback focuses on the classroom environment, but many of these insights, if tweaked slightly, can be pulled into the workplace.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that there are different types of feedback (see this PDF), including the feedback of observation and the self-feedback that happens in our minds as we reflect. Both of these types show up in this study on student writing improvement, which suggests that receiving direct feedback may be less effective than when students assess the work of their peers and then self-evaluate their own.

Three ways to leverage peer-to-peer feedback

  1. Review layers

Perhaps the easiest and most common form of workplace peer-to-peer feedback is when people or project managers thoughtfully interweave review layers into various parts of a project. You can assign a particular task to a more junior colleague, and rather than have them ship their work directly to you, they ship it to another colleague with more experience or expertise in this area. After they review, provide feedback, and create a better deliverable, they ship it to the manager.

Benefits: This process can help the first colleague develop new skills, allow the second colleague to practice giving feedback, and ensure the manager has less work to do when reviewing the final deliverable.

Note: As I wrote about here at Harvard Inspiring Minds, it’s helpful to introduce what feedback is and your feedback expectations before creating these team feedback relationships.

  1. Many minds, one design

Let’s say your web designer ships a mockup of a new homepage. You can take a screenshot of it, drop it into a digital whiteboarding tool like Miro, and then create a synchronous or asynchronous feedback environment where peers can add feedback to the design via text or sticky notes.

Benefits: This process can surface diverse feedback perspectives, which typically makes for a great conversation and a better outcome. Additionally, the open nature allows peers to see each other’s feedback comments. In my experience, this transparency taps into the study mentioned earlier where students improved through observation and self-reflection. In this design example, you may find that your teammates improve their eye for design and their feedback capacities.

  1. Past into present

Starting anything from scratch can be daunting, even for the most seasoned among us. For others, always pursuing something shiny and new can be alluring. These can be especially true for new colleagues on a new project. With the pace of change in many workplaces, including the hiring and laying off of workers in some industries, one great way to onboard new colleagues onto a new project is to use an old successful deliverable (go-to-market strategy documents, pitch decks, etc.) as the scaffolding for a new project. The peer-to-peer feedback dynamic here can cross space and time as one colleague provides feedback on an artifact created by a colleague who may no longer be at the company. Or, at the least, similar to the writing study, they learn by assessing a peer’s work, even if that peer has moved on from the team or organization.

Benefits: By surfacing and discussing an observable artifact that has worked in the past, you are re-leveraging past feedback cycles, creating opportunities for current peers to learn from past colleagues, and potentially reducing the need for future feedback cycles.

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Continue learning

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  3. On Appeasing the Feedback Giver