How to Kickstart a Feedback Culture on Your Team

I distinctly remember a time when a feedback conversation blew up in my face.

I was managing a team of personal trainers at a recreation center on my college campus. During a shadowing session with a newer trainer, I sat down with them to go over some suggestions I had. In my gut, I knew this wasn’t going to go well.

Immediately, the trainer grew defensive. Instead of listening to what I had to say, we were arguing back and forth. Firmly entrenched in my own viewpoints, I argued back. The conversation didn’t get out of hand, but it was clear we weren’t making any progress. Both parties were set in their own thinking and showing no signs of budging.

Perhaps you’ve been in this exact situation—approaching a new teammate with some critical feedback. You want desperately for the conversation to go well. In many ways, that first feedback conversation sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. Recovery from a bad start is possible, but it’s uncomfortable and difficult for everyone involved.

Starting a cycle of feedback on your team is equal parts important and delicate. The trick is to not start with direct, critical feedback but rather progress that direction over time building a relationship along the way. Here’s a step-by-step progression for moving from 0 to “This could be better” without burning bridges.

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Moving Up the Care Personally Axis (Radical Candor)

I just finished up with Radical Candor, a book on leadership by former Google and Facebook executive Kim Scott. Scott lays out two axes that exist within leadership—care personally and challenge directly. Together, they create the radical candor framework.

A visual depiction of the radical candor framework
This post on First Round Review offers a great breakdown if you just want to learn more about the framework. Image from Radical Candor.

Care personally is just that—demonstrating to your teammates that you give a damn about their well-being and success.

Challenge directly is all about helping them improve, giving them feedback, and pushing them to excel.

I want to talk about moving up on the Care personally axis and moving towards Radical Candor pulling both from the book and personal experience.

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