Feedback Culture

In the previous articles we talked about what risks a company would bear if you do not give feedback to your subordinates, and also about the importance of not just Feedback, but in particular positive Feedback. Now we will talk about how to introduce the culture of feedback in the team.

It is a very long and uneconomical option to train everyone simultaneously. In my practice, I offer two work options:

  • The company’s head/leadership are the first to be trained and then we go down the hierarchy.
  • A cross-section of the company is made from the top to the junior managers, and they take the training, spreading the Feedback culture further in similar segments.

Clean language and systemic modeling method. The diagram is taken from the book “From contempt to curiosity” by Caitlin Walker.

To cover the whole company staff, we create an isolated small group of about 5–10 people, who are to become Feedback technique experts for the entire company. In this case, you can cross-section top leaders (I), as well as introduce feedback culture through the initiators and pioneers (II), or even combine these two options in order to quickly cover the entire company (III) (see diagram). When the group is fully trained, a high level of cooperation is formed inside it. When it comes back to the company, this small group becomes dominant and the so-called “Creator effect” is triggered when other employees begin to copy their behavior, because they see a positive result from their high level of cooperation. Mirror neurons work and others start to imitate this small group, and those, in turn, begin to bring Feedback culture to the others.

This way of knowledge dissemination is “sewn up” into us at the biological level. In his lectures on behavioral biology, Robert Sapolsky tells about the Effect of the Creator and the isolation of a small group. He talks about the artificial isolation of a small group from a large team. Due to this isolation, there was an increase in the density of kinship in this group, a high level of cooperation emerged inside it. When this small group returned to the “mainland”, the “Creator effect” worked. The high level of cooperation that has developed in the isolated group was transferred to a large group and became predominant at some point.

The same happens when I train a small group within a company on Feedback introduction, which increases the level of cooperation within this group. Further on, when they return to the company, feedback skills begin to spread around naturally (through observation, fixation of benefits, imitation and transfer of knowledge about Feedback techniques from colleague to colleague) throughout the whole team.

And if the feedback culture in the company looks good at first glance?

Test yourself on these five basic indicators which show that feedback is not working well in the company:

  1. The simplest indicator is if people ask for some Feedback. “I do not hear feedback at work.” “I need feedback.”
  2. Conflicts arise out of misunderstanding. This is seen especially clearly in the frequent disruptions of deadlines due to incomplete communication. “I did not understand you, I thought it was due on the following day, but it turned out I should have done it on the previous day.”
  3. Feedback creates tension, scandals and quarrels. Therefore, it is preferable not to talk about Feedback at all, so as not to waste energy on conflicts.
  4. Departments or divisions do not communicate with each other and do not understand the work (areas of ​​responsibility) of each other.
  5. The management believes that it is necessary to solve problems in the “manual control” mode, as the team are not able to do it on their own. For example, the management does not like the fact that the team members are constantly late for work and they begin to worry that the work is not being done and are like “what are we paying them for”. This is due to the fact that transparent communication is not built up and the management does not see that the employees perform their work to the fullest. Thus, the situation “come at the wrong time” is a trigger and instead of providing Feedback and sorting out what is happening, a strict control is being imposed. The management decides that everyone should arrive at 9.00 instead of 11.00,  although this has no effect whatsoever on the problem solution. If you mark at least one item in your team, then it’s time you think about building a culture of feedback. However, before introducing the Feedback culture at the tools stage, you need to think about what stage of development your team is at, and, if it is at the second stage of development, you should first deal with specific conflicts and resolve them. After that, you should train the team to resolve conflicts themselves and further introduce Feedback culture. (If you want to know at what stage of development your team is — you can book a survey here).

    Step-by-step Feedback implementation plan

    Stage 1. Preparation

    Gather a group of like-minded people inside your company (3–7 people). Before you begin, it is important that you determine the result you want to get after introducing the Feedback culture. The culture of feedback is a mere decision, so it is important to understand to what result you expect it to lead.

Stage 2. Planning

Implementing Feedback culture in a team is a project, so it needs to be planned. To do it, I suggest using the Walnut method or, as it is called: the Content and Process model. This model is taken from the UGL program (the weekly leadership program of the Swedish army) and helps to cover the entire project.

Very often, while working on a project, we tend to narrow our focus to its content or specific solution: we focus on What. This is the way we are. However, if you forget about Why, Where and How, there is a risk of not achieving a result at all and losing a lot of time. Therefore, before you start working on the project to introduce Feedback culture, I suggest you answer the questions of the diagram below.

Stage 3. Understand your intentions and condition

  • It is important to understand your intention and the state in which Feedback is given before choosing a tool which you will work with. Any tool is neither good nor bad, but even a fork can be used in different ways: you can eat delicious pasta with it or you can gouge out your neighbor’s eye with it. Therefore, our emotional state as well as our intention is very important when we reach out for a fork.

Bottom line: it is important to check your emotional condition and identify your intention. If you are interested how to do it, let me know, and I will write a separate post.

Step 4. How to choose a Feedback tool

To implement Feedback, you can choose the tool yourself. There are a lot of them, so you need to analyze which Feedback format is best suited for your team and see how it proves itself. At the same time, you can conduct training yourself. For example, the CEO trained the employees after he had read the article “How to give feedback”. Next, they analyze how suitable the selected tool is for them.

This can also be done more technically and systematically: invite an expert (team coach). He or she will select a tool that is suitable for this company and will help with its implementation.

For example, I have a team who I have known for a couple of years. A year ago, we started an introductory workshop on feedback, the team decided to implement this methodology on their own. However, over the past year they have grown dramatically and had no time for Feedback as it was not a priority, so they faced a problem of Feedback culture. At the top of the leadership, at the level of the founders, the ability to give Feedback was not built up, and it led to a great deal of “wear and tear” of the company leaders. The employees did not get any feedback from the top management and also did not use any methods for this. Due to constant rows and, as a consequence, waste of time, some top managers’ health condition began to deteriorate. After passing the “critical zone” the team addressed me again. It took them only three sessions of about ten hours in total, after which they established independent Feedback culture in a small isolated group (leadership environment). As a follow up, this group went on introducing the Feedback methodology into the whole company for half a year. With this, my approach, as of their trainer, was to coach them on the basic principles so that the group could reveal the format in which they wanted to form their Feedback culture and choose their own specific tool for it.

Stage 5. Overview of Feedback tools

What tool can I choose to give feedback? It is important to understand what we are doing in the framework of Feedback. There are many options, but we analyze the most popular and proven by own experience:

  • Retrospective;
  • Stop-continue-start;
  • FeedForward for quick feedback for changes;
  • Net feedback.


This type of feedback is aimed at understanding what problems a team or project has and what can be done about it.

There are several types of retrospectives:

  • on the project;
  • on the work of the team in the project;
  • on a specific issue / success.

The Feedback variant in the retrospective format is appropriate if we want to talk about projects or processes, problems in a project or successes, that is, all that deals with the actions that were performed in the process and directly the work of the team. Here, the task is to understand what was done well, where there were problems and how to avoid them in the future.

The format of the retrospectives on which we usually work:

  • Pros. What went well?
  • Minuses. What went wrong and how can we avoid these problems in the future?
  • Ideas. What ideas emerged in the course of retrospectives?
  • Plan. What improvements will we plan for the next iteration / project?


When you need to give feedback to a group regarding the team, discuss what is happening in the team from the point of view of interaction, you can use the classic option “Stop-continue-start”. This is collective feedback when there is a group of people working directly with each other. Everyone writes down what each team member needs to stop doing, keep doing and start doing. Accordingly, each person will have the Feedback from all his colleagues. Further, each reads his Feedback to a specific person in the presence of the entire team. It is desirable to do this face-to-face, but in practice it is possible to do it even online. Of course, in such Feedback you have to be very careful, because if a team is in the development stage, when many conflicts occur, and the leadership itself is questioned, such Feedback format can only exacerbate conflicts in the team. (Read more: Stages of Team Development).

As a team coach, I often hear that the “Stop-continue-start” method does not always work. This happens when company employees cannot clearly explain what was wrong with their work. This happens when the Feedback is written, but it is not understandable to whom it is given or looks very general. “Stop worrying. Keep up doing the good work. Start to smile more”. In such cases, there is a format that helps to structure such Feedback. If the “Stop-continue-start” format did not fit, then try the Clean Questions System:

  • What worked for you when you interacted with me?
  • What did NOT work for you when you interacted with me?
  • What would you do differently next time?

At the beginning of the work, it may be unusual for the team to use such a structure, so time must pass to learn how to answer such questions.


The idea of ​​FeedForward is very simple: as FeedBack talks about the past, FeedForward talks about the future. FeedForward goal is to help individuals, teams, and organizations to anticipate and focus on a positive future, not a bad past. This tool helps you design the best version of yourself, which increases your chances of achieving future success. To put it simple, instead of providing positive or negative feedback, the direct link is to provide future-oriented options or solutions.

For example, there might be Feedforward comment about the employee who tends to be late: “I suggest that Aleksey gives you a ride to the next meeting. He always manages to arrive a few minutes earlier.”

To understand how to work effectively in the Feedforward system, you need to focus on offering very practical behavior, specific actions or words, and not on general ideas, principles and concepts. For example: “In our upcoming team meetings, every time Alexei participates in the discussion, use this as a guideline to remind yourself that you need to participate at least as much” instead of “Next time I invite you to participate more in our team meetings “.

Clean Image Connection

This Feedback is used to find out what is actually happening.

The Clean Questions system works here:

  • actual observation: what I saw or heard;
  • my interpretation of this;
  • the effect it made on me;
  • what is going on for you?

Thus, our feedback goal is not in the “manual mode” of authoritarian instructions such as: “You have not submitted the report. Do submit it on time!”, “Since you do not manage to come to work at 10 o’clock, from now on you should be at work at 9″. Clean Feedback is when the interactive question is asked at the end: “What is going on for you?

For example: “We agreed that you will send the reports at 6 pm, and I receive them at 9 am.” Interpretation — “the reports arrive at the wrong time”. It is important that the interpretation is given in relation to observation, and not in relation to a person. Next comes the effect, which was rendered: “I’m angry that I can’t pass the report on to my management on time. And when I get reprimanded for it, I feel like getting at you. What is going on for you?” Thus, we build a dialogue.

When we give feedback, it helps a lot if we think of it as a gift: we think it over, prepare it in advance, give it in the right place, at the right time, and just when a person is ready for it.

Sandwich Technique

Often people ask me about the Sandwich/Burger Feedback technique. This is one of the most common methods: you place negative feedback between the two parts of positive feedback. However, the sandwich approach can undermine your teamwork. Why does it happen?

Most executives say they use a sandwich approach to give negative feedback. They think it is easier for subordinates to hear and accept negative reviews when they start and end with positive ones. When leaders are asked the question “how do they know this”, almost everyone admits that they simply assume this. When managers ask their employees how they would like to get negative feedback, almost everyone says they prefer only “meat” and not a “sandwich”. In addition, subordinates may not take into account your positive Feedback, believing that it is not genuine.

Tops say they are often uncomfortable giving negative Feedback undiluted. However, in fact, such a “weakening” only leads to a negative effect, which they are trying to avoid. As a result, an employee does not hear the full-fledged negative Feedback and does not work with it or is not sure of the truthfulness of the positive Feedback and perceives everything as negative. Thus, they feel discomfort and become more and more disturbing.

Now you already know how you can step by step implement the Feedback culture in your company and understand that this is a big and voluminous task. Most likely, the defense reaction may work for you and you will want to push this big task as far as possible, or maybe not return to it at all. To avoid this, answer a simple question for yourself:

What can you do in the near future to begin applying the knowledge gained from this article?

It may be something simple that you have read. For example, tomorrow you may give feedback to your colleague by the method: “fact-interpretation-effect-what happens for you”. Or you can share this post with a colleague to discuss the possibility of using the described methods. Or maybe you decide to write to me to discuss the implementation of Feedback in your company. In any case, I wish you every success!

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