A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak to a group of lovely Scrum Masters about building a personal learning plan.  During our conversation I mentioned my feedback workshop.  This is great for opening discussion on what is often a difficult subject.  It is designed to show why giving feedback is important, and looks at which types of feedback are more useful than others.  I promised to post the workshop for them, so here it is.  (A little later than hoped….sorry about that Toby! ;))

I am due to run this exact session at our Polish office in Wroclaw in a couple of weeks time. If you are reading this, and you are due to attend one of those sessions….come on guys!  This counts as cheating 😉

So why do we need feedback?

From the minute we are born we are getting feedback from our environment and the people around us.

These are people who love us and care for our well being, and when we are very young we don’t take feedback personally.

Our self-worth is not attacked as we learn that Daddy doesn’t like crayon drawings directly on the wall for example.  So why does this change later?

I have a theory about this.

equationsWhen we are younger we are learning about the world and our place in it.  We need to understand how we can do things well enough to be able to then go on and do other, more interesting things.

[Tweet “What happens as we get older is that the feedback we get deteriorates in quality.”]

Eventually an awfully large percentage is the negative kind…”don’t do it that way”, “why haven’t you done this yet”.

As we grow from children to early adulthood, we become acutely aware how our feelings can be hurt when told we need to do things differently.

Crucially, because we empathise with people we care about, we also don’t want them to feel bad (like we did) by giving them feedback.

It is not our fault, but we come to believe that ‘feedback’ means only telling someone they are doing something wrong.  Occasionally we remember we should include adding something to show they should have done it, but not often or with conviction.

Often we have left it so long to give this feedback, that we have built up anger and frustration about the issue.  This in turn will drown out any good intentions we had.

And there we are, we just fulfilled all our fears about giving feedback in the first place!

[Tweet “This leads us to why it is so hard to give feedback. Quite frankly, we suck at it.”]

We started out well, and then got slightly worse, and worse and never really thought about why.   We just assumed it was part of “being a grown up”.

Receiving feedback sucks.

lollypopsWhich is how most of us have found ourselves in the realm of the “give no feedback at all, ever” solution.

Intellectually we know this isn’t great, yet emotionally it can be hard to persuade a team to do something so uncomfortable.

I’d like to make this easier for everyone, so I want to offer you a workshop you can run to help.

If you run this workshop, and then have look at the results of your (hugely unscientific) experiment will show you and your team some interesting things, a couple of which I’ll talk about now:


The results for the ‘no feedback’ come out consistently worse than any other feedback style!  Yet it is what most people resort to doing.

Here are the 2 most common reasons given by the workshop attendees:

  1. It was easier to give no feedback than to give negative feedback
  2. It was also less emotional to receive no feedback than to receive negative feedback (I’ll come back to why in a minute)

Hardly surprising that human beings once again take the path of least resistance.

Purely Positive Feedback is Fools Gold!    Cheerleader

The other side of this coin is the ‘purely positive’ feedback (I have called it cheer-leading in the workshop materials).  To be honest, this is the feedback equivalent of fools gold.

It is also where many people go (and stay) when they decide to start giving and receiving feedback.

This is because it feels great to give and to receive this kind of feedback – at first.  After a while, compliments wear thin and become cheapened with over-use.

It’s also really difficult for the person receiving nothing but positive feedback to improve their performance at all.  If you are really lucky its like training a rat to push a lever to receive a reward.

There’s a whole lot of rat-NOT-pushing-the-lever, and a whole lot of rat-pushing-the-lever-but-not-understanding-the relationship-to the-reward before you get to cause and effect.  Its a s…..l…..o….w way to learn.

This workshop will give you 3 things

  1. Help introduce your team to the idea of feedback.
  2. It will show them how different types of feedback do and don’t work.
  3. It will give you several small ‘next steps’ for taking this forward with them

Download the workshop, with links to all printed materials here:

 Feedback Workshop Download


I always seem to finish my posts by emphasising that changing behaviour rarely happens overnight – even if you are very motivated to change.  This is no different.  I hope you enjoy the workshop and the game I recommend for next steps afterwards 🙂