The first step to gathering candid feedback is to ask for it! In theory, this sounds so simple, ask for feedback and you shall receive, right? Not always.

Often when a leader merely asks their team members for feedback, they might receive some responses, and while some of it could be beneficial, a vague request for feedback rarely presents the best results. Everyone on the team must first feel comfortable with their team leader and trust that they can truly present candid feedback without fear or hesitation.

Leaders should be vulnerable first, and often.

As Daniel Coyle notes in The Culture Code, (one of the the resources we discussed in The Black Sheep’s monthly book club) “Group cooperation is created by small, frequently repeated moments of vulnerability. Of these, none carries more power than the moment when a leader signals vulnerability.”

If leaders want to promote vulnerability, and therefore group cooperation, in their team, they must first be vulnerable with their team. In order to express vulnerability, leaders do not have to open up completely about their personal lives or explain every detail of a project that may have taken a turn for the worse. Instead, it is about leaders being candid in the moment and open with team members about their own professional experiences.

Leaders can be vulnerable with their team by holding themselves accountable when something may not have gone as planned, by constructively expressing dissatisfaction with their own work, or by acknowledging their own weaknesses along with hopes to improve.

By expressing their own vulnerabilities, team leaders will foster an environment amongst their team where it is safe to say ‘This went wrong, how can I fix it next time?’ and other team members are willing to collaborate to answer that question and improve for the future.

Collecting feedback

Once a team is confident that it is safe to provide candid feedback, an effective leader must find the best avenues to collect feedback. Some teams and individuals work well by providing and collecting feedback in a group setting, others may prefer to do so in a smaller setting, or anonymously. Leaders should get to know their teams to determine the best ways to collect healthy feedback.

Now, finding the best setting to collect feedback is not enough. If leaders want valuable feedback, they need to get specific when asking for feedback. When team members are put on the spot or asked to provide ‘feedback’, it can often cause a mental block because it is too vague of a topic.

Leaders should ask for feedback about specific things. In The Culture Code, Coyle shares a recommendation from Laszlo Bock, former head of People Analytics at Google. Bock recommends that team leaders ask their teams three questions:

  1. “What is one thing that I currently do that you’d like me to continue to do?”
  2. “What is one thing that I don’t currently do frequently enough that you think I should do more often?”
  3. “What can I do to make you more effective?”

After implementing questions like these to our 1:1 meetings at The Black Sheep, feedback became more structured and gave team members a regular place to provide feedback to their leaders. Team members now know each week that their leader is going to ask them these questions, and therefore can come prepared with specific feedback from the past week.