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Friday 20 September 2013

Feedback and change!

Feedback is important to any group of people working together. This is especially so when people from separate businesses and organisations come together to collaborate.

The following model can help partners identify the type of feedback they may need to deliver and address; it will also help them think in a focused way about its purpose and effects:

(Copyright Charles M Lines)

Unspoken feedback is sometimes felt and at best hinted at through partners' actions and reactions. It could be significant or trivial but because it remains unsaid there is no way of knowing. It will, however, sometimes create ‘an atmosphere’ that if not addressed can cause problems between partners. (This type of feedback is likely to appear during a partnership's latency phase). If there are problems between partners or 'an atmosphere' within the collaboration it could be because ‘things need to be aired’. Look out for partners' actions and reactions. Do not be hesitant about asking partners why they are acting or reacting in a particular way. You may find out something very valuable that could lead to reinforcing, modifying or transforming feedback, or you could be reassured that any concerns are merely trivial or ‘passing’ and easily dealt with. 

For example, partners may be having doubts about their ability to contribute to the collaboration's work but be reluctant to admit this. This may lead to them becoming more and more hesitant and withdrawn during meetings and other activities. Taking these partners to one side and respectfully asking why this is happening could encourage them to express their concerns. You can then reassure them as to the value of their contribution and/or explore ways in which they could be helped and supported in their role.            

Passing feedback is not significant in terms of partners' and the collaboration's effectiveness. For example, people often suggest areas for improvement that are in fact expressions of personal preferences. It is true that taking personal preferences into account can sometimes be crucial to the activities of a collaboration and the delivery of its services, but on other occasions it is not. Carefully consider how valuable such feedback is to partners and the collaboration. Do you really need to share and address this feedback? What purpose will be served by doing so? Will acting on it only result in wasted time and effort?

Reinforcing feedback takes the form of positive comments or compliments about partners' and/or the collaboration's effectiveness. How can you encourage partners and the collaboration to build upon these? Could any shortcomings in other areas be addressed by building upon this positive, reinforcing feedback? For example, a partner may have received feedback about their strong communication and PR skills. How could these skills be used to enhance the collaboration's overall image and visibility?

Modifying feedback points out potential areas for improvement within otherwise acceptable levels of performance. For example, people may be very happy with the quality of a service or product but occasionally frustrated by what they see as unnecessary delays in providing it. Will addressing this issue improve the effectiveness of partners and the collaboration? How will it improve things? What options can you identify and discuss with partners' to address it?

Transforming feedback is crucial to partners' and the collaboration's effectiveness. For example, changes in Government policy and cuts in funding may require a collaboration that is charity and volunteer based to receive hard messages about becoming more business focused and efficient. This feedback must be given and addressed in a clear and unambiguous way and separately from any other. You will need to think carefully about how and when you deliver and discuss this feedback. What style of feedback would suit the partners receiving it? Are you sure that you have all the facts relating to it? Are you clear about what you want to say? What are your own feelings about the issue and could they affect the way you give the feedback? What are the partners' views and  feelings concerning the issue? What do they think should be done to address it?

Keep in mind that feedback implying a significant need for change on the part of partners and the collaboration can be perceived as threatening and lead to defensiveness and resistance. So think carefully about the level and type of feedback you need to give, explore and discuss. What type of feedback would best suit the issues, collaborative context and partners involved? Sometimes emphasising strengths and suggesting and exploring options can be more effective than ‘reading the riot act’ or over-enthusiastically championing change. Always think about the partners on the receiving end of your feedback. What will work best for them, you and the collaboration overall?    

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