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Team Leader To-Do’s for Constructive Feedback

As a team leader, providing feedback is essential: it lets team members know your expectations, how they are performing as individuals, and measures their contributions to the team project goals. While an organization typically has a formal performance review process, successful team leaders provide feedback on a regular basis to address problems and to keep the team sharp.

What guides the feedback process for successful managers? David Jones, Managing Director of Protiviti and a former director of human resources firm Robert Half International, provides seven principles for giving constructive feedback.

1. Talk about the situation, not the individual

Constructive feedback focuses on outcomes and observations – not the employee’s personal attributes. Feedback that centers on the individual can be interpreted as a personal attack rather than an objective appraisal. By addressing the situation itself, you are telegraphing that the problem is fixable and that you are enlisting his or her participation in creating a positive outcome.

2. Provide the why

Structure your feedback around why improvements are important. If the issue is a team member who is not actively participating in meetings, note that his or her reticence creates an additional load for teammates and likely delays completion of the project, which will adversely affect clients. By clarifying that the goal is a positive outcome, your feedback will come across as objective and not as commentary on the person’s character.

3. Be direct but informal

Feedback is best delivered in person. Find a quiet space in the office or online for a face-to-face. While a feedback session may be more informal than a performance review, don’t beat around the bush: explain the ‘why’ of the feedback and get to the point. As your people skills improve, you will learn to interpret a person’s body language and vocal tone as well as his or her words.

4. Make it timely

Positive feedback is most beneficial when it is timed with the achievement itself. Timing is also important for negative feedback, but it may be wise to wait a bit to avoid a discussion fueled by anger or disappointment. With all feedback discussions, the focus should be on guiding a team member to an understanding of performance and project goals and how the individual can improve.

5. Give praise when praise is due

In providing feedback, always provide the good with the bad: “Yes, you helped the team meet its project deadline and stay within budget; but multiple rounds of revisions on your work were a real challenge.” By acknowledging positive contributions but isolating aspects of the job that need improvement, you let the team member know that you are providing a balanced assessment.

6. Be sincere

Your tone, body language and choice of words must be consistent with the message you are conveying. If the feedback is positive, let your demeanor and tone indicate that you appreciate his or her efforts. For negative feedback, a more concerned tone will show that you believe the problem should be taken seriously. No matter what the issue at hand may be, avoid overly emoting: false praise, anger, sarcasm, or disappointment will nullify your attempt to create a constructive exchange.

7. Listen

When you’re giving constructive feedback, make it a real conversation: make sure your team member has a chance to respond. Not only does this demonstrate that you are interested in his or her interpretation of the issue, but it also provides a basis for you to engage them to be part of the solution.

Learn!

Whether positive or negative, constructive feedback is one of the most powerful team development tools at your disposal. Fortunately, developing constructive feedback skills can be learned. San Jose-based Effective Training Associates (ETA) specializes in people skills for engineers, managers, and tech professionals. ETA’s instructor-led courses and webinars include several devoted to feedback:

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