Written by Joanne Sacco

A blueprint for getting honest feedback from your team

One of the hallmarks of a successful leader is the feedback they receive from their team. Good or bad, it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that employees feel comfortable enough to share their concerns and issues. It’s a sign of great trust.
If all you get from your team when you ask them how things are going is the ‘everything’s fine’ line, here are some key ways to turn that around.

Show them how to give feedback

It’s not likely you’ll get honest, productive feedback from your team if you don’t practise it yourself. Giving your team members frequent feedback normalises the process. They should then should feel comfortable when you ask them for their input.

  • Regularly giving them positive reinforcement & praise
  • Framing negative feedback with an optimistic spin – ‘This didn’t work so well this time but next time, perhaps try this tactic.’
  • Asking carefully-framed questions that guide them to the right conclusions; and in doing so, giving them ownership of solving their own issues
  • Holding debrief sessions after all projects sharing what you thought worked & what didn’t
  • Being honest about your failings & apologising when you get things wrong

Foster a culture of two-way communication

Take the time to fully understand – and show interest – in your team’s projects. This way, when they do give you feedback, you’ll quickly comprehend the issue and can start working on solutions.
Don’t be backwards in sharing what you’re working on too. Your team will appreciate being included in the loop. The insights you provide from higher up may circumnavigate problems down the line as well.

Provide a variety of feedback mechanisms

Team and one-on-one meetings are useful ways to get feedback. But not all team members are created equal, and some don’t feel comfortable sharing their opinion via such platforms. As such, ensure you have a variety of feedback methods available, some of them anonymous. Online surveys, suggestions boxes or an external consultant are a few great options. 

If you get negative feedback, don’t be defensive

It’s tough to hear things aren’t going well on your team or worse yet, that they aren’t happy with your leadership. But if they do have the courage to share this with you, try not to take it personally and get defensive. After all, if they are sharing it with you, this means they have a great level of trust in you and faith you will do something about it.
Instead, take a deep breath and:

  1. Thank them for their feedback
  2. Request specific examples, i.e. ‘Can you share a recent situation when that happened?’
  3. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the issue
  4. Talk about possible solutions
  5. If you can’t change anything, give them the background as to why – context is crucial

Ways to ask for feedback

Be specific when you ask for team member input. Asking a generic question won’t give you any valuable insights you can work with. Instead, try asking some (or all) of the following questions.
Task-related questions

  • What would you change about our team meetings so they are more effective?
  • What’s the best part of your day?
  • What’s the worst?
  • How do you feel about your current project?
  • What’s working well?
  • Do you have any obstacles in meeting your project goals?
  • Do you have the right tools to get your all of your tasks done?

Leadership-related questions

  • Do you feel your ideas are heard by the team and by me?
  • What can I do to make your job easier, or more enjoyable?
  • Was there anything I could have done better on the last project to help you?
  • Do you need more or less direction from me about particular project tasks?
  • Did I get the planning (budgeting, timelines etc) right on the last project? If not, do you have any suggestions?
  • Anything else you’d like to share?

When you get feedback, action it

Depending on the feedback you receive, you might be able to action it straight away. Instituting change as a direct result of an employee’s feedback almost guarantees they’ll share again in future. It validates they made the right choice in coming to you.
However, there’ll be cases where you can’t change anything. Deadlines can’t be shifted, budgets can’t be expanded or upper management’s minds can’t be changed. If so, it’s important you help your employee understand why it is so, giving them the context they may be unaware of to smooth the news.
Those are just a few key ways you can create a culture of shared feedback in your tech team. Getting their buy-in to give you their insights is a fantastic way to keep them happy and retain them, something that is vital in today’s highly mobile tech field. Feel free to check out a few more retention strategies in our article ‘How to retain top tech talent’.

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