Managing Groups and Teams/Feedback in Teams

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Feedback is an evaluative response about an action or process given to the original source. There are many situations in which feedback is appropriate and necessary. Working in teams provides a variety of opportunities to give feedback to any number of recipients. It also provides an opportunity to receive feedback from others. Before giving feedback there are a variety of factors that must be considered, including:

• The goal of giving feedback

• When to give feedback

• The recipient(s) of feedback

• Techniques & tools to ensure effective feedback

• Response to feedback

In the case of groups, roles and hierarchies may make peer to peer feedback more difficult. In this case, it is even more important to make sure feedback is given in the most effective manner.

Common Goals of Giving Feedback[edit | edit source]

The first step in giving feedback is to determine the goal or the reason for the feedback. This will vary depending upon the situation. Defining the goal will help shape the process. Feedback is an educational opportunity for both the sender and the receiver.

Feedback can be used to praise or show appreciation. For example, it is a chance to tell the recipient that an idea he had was exceptional, that he did well in a meeting, or that his hard work has been noticed. But feedback is not always positive. It can be a tool to educate the receiver about his negative behavior or performance, such as habitual lateness or that he has gone over budget on a project. Negative feedback is also called corrective feedback.

Improving communication is another common goal of feedback which can lead to several great benefits such as building, maintaining and testing relationships, gathering information, and keeping one’s perceptions in check.

One of the most common goals of feedback is to influence others’ behavior. However, feedback is not a good tool for getting a person to change. Edith Whitfield Seashore noted that “even though [interpersonal behavior] may influence future behavior, [it] doesn’t necessarily control anything. We often receive the same feedback over and over, without anything changing significantly. And we often give feedback without anyone else changing” [1]. Feedback should be used to influence others to want to start, stop, or modify a behavior. Precisely given feedback can help a person to see the effects of a behavior and empower the receiver to want to change the behavior for the better.

When to give feedback[edit | edit source]

Determining when to give feedback can be difficult, but it is usually best to give feedback in a timely manner. This is especially true of behavior or performance feedback. If a person or team completed a project as asked it is important to let them know that their effort is noticed in order to encourage the behavior to continue. On the flip side, if a person or team is exhibiting poor behavior or performance it is important to inform them of the disapproval and encourage them to improve the behavior. This is especially important in teams as the behavior and performance of one can snowball into a larger problem if it is not addressed early on.

Recipients of feedback[edit | edit source]

Feedback is appropriate for many different audiences such as team leader to group, team member to peer, and group to team leader. The feedback approach will differ depending upon the audience.

Working in teams provides additional opportunities to talk with the team about its behavior, performance or goals. However, not all team feedback should be given in the audience of the team. On occasion it may be appropriate to pull a team member aside to give one on one feedback, especially if the feedback is related to that person’s negative behavior or performance. However, feedback as is relates to the group’s performance, accomplishment of goals, or cohesion should be brought up to the entire group. This ensures that all team members receive the same message, and the group can work toward solutions to the problem if necessary.

Providing performance feedback is effective in improving team performance. But is the most effective way to administer feedback on an individual level, group level, or both? DeShon, Kozlowski,Schmidt, Milner & Wiechmann studied this issue in 2003 [3]. The groups that were given feedback aimed at the individual showed an increased individual performance within the team. Likewise, the groups which were given feedback targeted at the team showed more successful team performance. A third type of group was given both individual and team feedback. The study predicted that this third group would benefit from the multilevel multiple-goal feedback and would outperform the other two types of groups. Surprisingly, this was not the case. Results found that both groups that received a single focused type of feedback outperformed this third group type on both individual and team performance measures. However, the study found that if the goal is to improve team performance, team feedback produces the best results.

Positive and Negative Feedback for Teams[edit | edit source]

Every team has members which possess unique abilities, talents and skills. If a team is fully functional, meaning that they have several team members who are able to take what they know and make their knowledge mesh together to accomplish a task or goal, they have a greater probability of success. According to Webster’s Dictionary, positive feedback is defined as, “feedback that tends to magnify a process or increase its output.”[4] Positive feedback creates positive results, however there is a need at times to balance out positive and negative feedback. Poor feedback can cause mutiny, feelings of low self-worth, anger or even hatred towards the task or that person.

—The absence of feedback can cause problems among a team because of the perceived lack of recognition of hard work or special talents by the one who is supposed to give the feedback.

—Negative feedback at least has a direction if said in the right tone and the right way.

—Positive feedback has power to exponentially build a team, make it work with fluidity and create a synergy that other methods cannot duplicate.

However, solely giving positive feedback can be detrimental. In a journal article titled The Negatives of Only Focusing on Positive Feedback, it states that, “We agree that it is important for managers to appreciate their strengths and understand how to leverage those strengths. If they don’t, they could waste time and effort attempting to get better at leadership skills they have already mastered. They could fail to leverage core skills that would help them be more successful. But CCL’s data suggest that if managers pay attention only to their strengths, their leadership development efforts may not address what their organizations need most. This in turn could be harmful not only to individual managers but to entire organizations.”[5]

Negative feedback, or coaching, as many companies like to call it, is a necessary evil. Constructive criticism is the only way to build character, otherwise the team members might not think that they are doing anything wrong and can only do everything right. As a leader, this comes into play and is desired.

However, it is vital that that one remain objective when giving negative feedback. Aim feedback at the behavior, not the person. It is important to look past the differences of the recipient in order to have an honest and sincere interaction. Do not judge the person receiving the feedback. Each person is experiencing each situation differently, and it is impossible for the giver to understand each person’s situation. Present the feedback honestly, sticking to the facts, rather than judging the person upon your perception.

It is important to consider the matrix of the team when giving feedback. It is also important not to point out specific members of the group when giving negative feedback. That is more appropriate for an individual conversation. Focus on the behavior of the group and the changes that need to be made within the group.

Finally, when giving negative feedback, one must have good intentions on helping the person to improve. Feedback given with mal intent will not have a positive outcome. If one is unable to give feedback in a sincere manner it may be beneficial to have another respected member of the team give the feedback.

Feedback Techniques[edit | edit source]

Each team member should have a working knowledge of feedback techniques that can be implemented with the group in order to reach the team goals and to be productive. The following are a sample of techniques that can be used to enhance the feedback experience.

Serve the feedback like a meal Serve the feedback like a meal How the message is delivered can often determine if the message is received properly and if it will be acted upon. Kind words shouted at someone do not have the same positive impact as when they are spoken gently. Ed Sykes of The Sykes Group [6] has suggested that feedback should be served to the team or individual like a great meal. He offers five techniques for making the feedback meal more appetizing:

a. Mentally prepare to give feedback just as you would prepare ahead of time to serve a banquet. Review questions such as “Is the feedback important? What do I hope to accomplish through this feedback? Who are the persons I will be giving the feedback to? How have they taken feedback in the past? Etc.

b. Serve each course at the appropriate time- waiting too long to serve the criticism or serving it too early can result in a lack of hunger for the team or individual receiving the meal.

c. Start with quality ingredients like fairness, candor, and consistency. Set positive expectations and be direct in the communication.

d. Ask for a meal review. Get feedback on the feedback session.

e. Use appropriate table manners. Be gracious, respectful, and kind. Always end on a positive note.

Stay Positive According to the UK management training firm Templeton Finn [7], there is a three step technique to giving feedback that significantly improves performance and motivation:

1. Start the process with a few genuine, specific compliments.

a. Be sure to use very specific and direct terms and remember that whatever you comment on you will get more of.

2. Give the person or group one or two things they could do differently next time to make it even better.

a. Be sure to give them the correct way to do it. If you only tell them what they did wrong, then there is still a chance that they will do it wrong again, just in a different way.

3. Make an overall positive comment about the person’s abilities or progress.

In general, stay positive and use positive terms. There are an infinite number of wrong ways to do something so it’s much better to know how to do something the right way than to know how not to do it. People generally feel more confident about their abilities to improve upon mistakes through positive feedback. On the other hand people generally feel nervous and insecure when they receive feedback in a negative manner, which often leads to more mistakes.

Non-recommended feedback techniques Recommended feedback techniques
creating a closed, disrespectful environment creating an open, respectful environment
not eliciting thoughts and feelings prior to feedback eliciting thoughts and feelings prior to feedback
being judgmental being nonjudgmental
focusing on personality focusing on behaviors
basing feedback on hearsay basing feedback on observed facts
basing feedback on generalizations basing feedback on specifics
giving too much/little feedback giving the right amount of feedback
not suggesting ideas for improvements suggesting ideas for improvements
basing feedback on unknown,non-negotiated goals basing feedback on well known negotiated goals

CONNECT Model The Connect Model [8] is a communication process used between two members of a group that promotes a collaborative team environment by allowing discussion of conflicts in a psychologically safe environment. Through this process each member should gain a deeper understanding of the other through giving and receiving feedback. The method uses the following steps:

C – Commit to the relationship. Tell why you think this is worth doing and that you think the relationship is important enough to work on. O – Optimize safety. Let the other person know that you will do your best not to put him on the defensive. N – Narrow the discussion to one issue. N – Neutralize defensiveness. Ask the person to let you know if you make them defensive. E – Explain and echo each perspective. Tell what you notice and the effects that you perceive. Have the person echo what you have said and then have him tell you his perspective. C – Change one behavior each. T – Track it. Pick a date to check back in with each other to see how things are going.

Red Paper / Green Paper This activity will shed light upon your group’s strengths and weaknesses. Give each group member three red slips of papers and three green slips of paper. Have them write three things that the group is good at on the green papers and three things that the group could improve upon on the red papers. These are written anonymously. When finished, each member puts his papers in two piles sorted by color. Shuffle the deck and read the negative results first. Then read the positive results. Only after all papers are read should the discussion start. It is interesting to note the common themes that team members mention.

Survey Often this technique works well when a team leader finds it beneficial to solicit feedback from the group in an effort to improve performance. The team leader can create a survey form with specific pertinent questions. The group will feel safer if the survey is anonymous. The team leader should also fill out the survey and compare his results to the group to see how “in tune” he is with his real performance. It is common for one to think that he performs better than he actually does. Feedback is a good reality check.

Tools for Team members[edit | edit source]

In the book When Teams Work Best, it states, “Good feedback is associated with a heightened sense of personal accountability, a wide range of worker satisfaction factors, and enhanced performance, especially in groups whose goals demand extensive interpersonal relationships. Because feedback is the lifeblood of growth in a team relationship, we need a set of tools that will move us closer at the end of an attempted relationship adjustment, not farther apart.”[9] The following is a sample of tools that can help improve the feedback process.

FeedForward One new trend in the positive feedback realm is that of feedforward. “Asking for feedforward means asking for two suggestions for the future that might help the team achieve a positive change in their selected behavior. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give any feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future…feedforward helps people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past.”[10] This novel idea of looking towards the future to generate ideas is another way that teams, or leaders of teams, can provide positive actions to build a positive end result. There is truth in the statement that feedback tends to cause us to look at a potentially failed past as a dissection of what was done right and what was done wrong. However, the optimistic point of view treats feedforward as the way to grow by looking forward and making right decisions for the future.

Checklist for Positive Interactions In an article by Lindsey Swinton, she states seven steps for positive feedback. They are:

1. No Time Like Now: Give positive feedback as close to the event as possible so the feedback doesn’t go stale.

2. In Public and Private: Praise in public, criticize in private.

3. Practice Makes Perfect: Make it a habit to praise regularly

4. Does the Reward Fit? : The amount of effort put in merits a reward of the same level.

5. No Favorites: Don’t over praise one person. Keep a mental tally of whom you praised most recently

6. Be Clear and Mean It: Tell the team exactly why you are praising them. Be specific.

7. Catch People Doing Things Right: The more you catch people doing things right, the more right things they will do! [11]

After reviewing these steps for positive feedback, it is clear that it takes planning and effort to make each bit of positive feedback worthwhile and meaningful for the team. Planning and execution of such feedback is worth the time preparing and thinking of who deserves it and why they are deserving of it.

The Johari Window Model The goal of feedback within teams is to influence the team and member behavior. Members of teams will need to have knowledge of models for feedback to implement in group settings to reach the goals set and to be productive. The Johari Window model [12] can be used to begin to understand group dynamics and interpersonal behavior that can lead to feedback opportunities for managers and groups. (insert image)

Known to Self Not Known to Self
Known to Others Open Blind
Not Known to Others Hidden Unknown

Group members share “open” information. One group member may have “hidden” information. The group may deal with areas of “unknown” information. Additionally, members may create “blind” information areas when there is information or feelings observed but not shared. Lack of information or pent up feelings can cripple a group’s success. Feedback can help to reduce the areas of hidden, blind, and unknown information as well as to better discuss and utilize open information. A group may choose to participate in a Johari activity and actually place adjectives in each box of the model. This placement can then be used for members to inform interpersonal relationships and communication.

The Losada Line The Losada Meta Learning Model [13] is one way to divide groups into high, medium and low performers by actually quantifying tiered variables of team dynamics:

● inquiry-advocacy (how much people ask vs. talk),

● positivity-negativity (how much people are positive vs. negative),

● other-self (how much people are focused on others vs. on themselves),

● connectivity(a control parameter)

● viscosity (how the environment resists change), and

● negativity bias (our speed of response to negative events to avoid harm). While individual groups or group members may not be able to produce the mathematically generated computer model to determine whether they are high or low performing, these variables can be discussed and influenced through feedback. Additionally, categories of teams could also be related to a positive/negative feedback ratio:

• High – 5.6 P/N

• Medium – 1.9 P/N

• Low – 0.36 P/N

T-Group A T-group is a model that provides participants with an opportunity to “study their own behavior when they interact within a small group.”[14]. Because of the self-disclosure and openness involved, this type of exercise may not be appropriate for regular working groups within an organization. Best results occur in an environment such as a training group or a seminar in which the participants are strangers that will not work together in the future. The group’s work is focused on feelings, process, and feedback. Some of the objectives that a participant can expect to come away with are an increased understanding of underlying social processes within a group, increased awareness of the effect one’s behavior has on others in the group, increased ability to give and receive feedback, and increased ability to manage conflict.

Response to Feedback[edit | edit source]

Generally, one feels comfortable giving positive feedback because the danger of conflict is minimal. On the other hand, the reception of negative feedback can be much more difficult to predict. A person may receive feedback as a sign of constructive criticism. Others may receive the same feedback as a personal attack. Often time people are reluctant to give feedback because “complex interactions, especially that are unproductive, occur when we interact with people who we perceive as being very different from us.” [15]

Use common sense to increase the chance of success when giving feedback. Be slow to speak until you are sure that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is better to err on the side of caution because words cannot be taken back once they are spoken.

What should you do if the receiver doesn’t respond in the desired manner to your feedback? First of all, do not give up. Change often takes time. You must also remember that you cannot control other people, but only yourself.

After each feedback encounter, take a few minutes to evaluate your performance. What went well? What can you improve? Make a mental note on what you want to try different next time, because there will always be a next time. A big part of giving successful feedback involves practice.

Examples of successful real world applications of technique[edit | edit source]

Cleveland Clinic Research Experiment Doctors Mariana G Hewson PHD and Margaret Little MD at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio [16] conducted a research experiment to verify the effectiveness of recommended techniques for feedback in Medical Education. The study aimed to substantiate several recommended feedback techniques (listed in table 1). The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative approaches to measure results.

They investigated “clinician teachers' personal experiences with receiving feedback in a course for improving the teaching of medical interviewing (the annual training course of the American Academy of Physician and Patient).”

The group of 83 course participants was comprised of 39 men and 44 women from roughly 60 different medical institutions located in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

At the end of the week-long course, each participant “was asked to provide a short narrative of two selected course-related feedback incidents, one of which they judged as personally helpful, and the other as personally unhelpful.”

The doctors found that the feedback techniques used in helpful incidents often included a focus on skills along with personal styles. The specific skills included: being able to lead a group discussion, giving feedback, setting up a role play, and handling challenging incidents. The effective personal styles consisted of traits like being quiet, being verbally assertive, being non-threatening, being flexible, and being facilitative.

According to Doctors Hewson and Little, the manner in which the feedback was presented to the participants "strongly affected their perceptions of its helpfulness." Techniques like "giving feedback lovingly, supportively, and caringly" as well as "being gentle and not hitting someone over the head with his or her mistakes" along with "being concerned to understand the other person's position" were all deemed helpful. The researchers also noted that the "participants appreciated accurate and clear feedback about particular behaviors." The study also mentioned that "feedback that included specific suggestions for improvement was seen as very important."

Ultimately through their research Doctors Hewson and Little were able to conclude that “Feedback techniques experienced by respondents substantiate the literature-based recommendations, and corrective feedback is regarded as helpful when delivered appropriately.”

Bellon, Bellon & Blake Study Research has shown that when classroom teachers effectively use feedback techniques with children, they often have a strong positive effect on the students. Researchers have found that “Academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other teaching behavior” and that “this relationship is consistent regardless of grade, socioeconomic status, race, or school setting.” In a study by Bellon, Bellon, and Blake [17], when “feedback and corrective procedures are used, most students can attain the same level of achievement as the top 20% of students.”

Feedback has proven to be effective when there is recognition of a common goal, evidence given of current position, and some understanding is reached between the teacher and student of how to close the gap of the desired goal and current position.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Feedback is a valuable tool that can be used to improve team performance. It is educational for both the sender and receiver. Feedback informs, seeks to change behavior, and improves communication. It can be of a positive or negative nature. Feedback works best when given in a timely manner. Several techniques and tools were given to help in giving successful feedback. Common sense also prevails. It is difficult to predict the response one will receive. Do not be discouraged if the response to your feedback is not what you were aiming for. Remember that you cannot control others. Evaluate your performance after each feedback session and remember that practice plays a big part in improvement.

References[edit | edit source]

[1] E. W. (1996). Feedback: An Educational Opportunity. Reading Book for Human Relations Training. Columbia, MD: Bingham House Books.

[2] Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 89(6), Dec, 2004. pp. 1035-1056


[4]Jean Briattain Leslie, & Sylvester Taylor. (2005). In focus/feedback and development: The negatives of focusing only on the positive. Leadership in Action, 24(6), 19+. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 862836731).


[6] Templeton Finn Ltd, The Barn, Burrows Hall Farm, Over Burrows, Brailsford, Derbyshire, East Midlands, DE6 3BU,

[7] LaFasto & Larson When Teams Work Best , pp 50-61, c2001

[8] LaFasto & Larson, When Teams Work Best, p. 46, c2001

[9] Marshall Goldsmith. (2003). Try feedforward instead of feedback. The Journal for Quality and Participation, 26(3), 38-40. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 454274271).

[10], Lindsey Swinton, accessed via web 11/21/2010

[11] Luft, J.; Ingham, H. (1955). "The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness". Proceedings of the western training laboratory in group development (Los Angeles: UCLA).

[12] Losada, M. (1999). The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modeling, 30(9-10), 179-192. Additional resources:


[14] (Seashore, E.W. (1996). Feedback: An educational Opportunity. Reading Book for Human Relations Training. Columbia, MD. Bingham House Books)

[15] J Gen Intern Med. 1998 February; 13(2): 111–116. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1998.00027.x. Copyright 1998 by the Society of General Internal Medicine,

[16], Providing Students with Effective Feedback, By Academic Leadership the Online Journal, Volume 4 - Issue 4, Feb 12, 2007, Bellon, Jerry, Bellon, Elner, and Blank, Mary Ann. Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: A Development and Renewal Process. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992. (pp. 277-278)