Why I can’t always give real time feedback

Feedback is great. Feedback is a gift. Yeah, yeah. I’m an Agile coach. Giving feedback to teams, managers, leadership, and organization is my job. But hey, I’m sorry that I can’t always give it to you immediately. It doesn’t exactly work that way.

I understand that it’s easier to fix things when you get the feedback right away, and I’m all for that when I can do it. But I can’t always give it immediately. Sometimes I will see something grossly wrong or a situation I’ve seen before and I can give very prompt feedback or ask an appropriate question to guide toward a solution. I know that is what is preferred and believe you me, I prefer it, too.

No one wants someone to give them feedback weeks or months later so that they are unable to go back and improve between the lead time after the event and when the feedback was given. Additionally no one wants to get super generic feedback without some specific examples to back it up. It’s not helpful if you can’t put yourself back in the situation with some shared context. But at the same time, it’s also not helpful if for the sake of giving quick feedback if it’s not well thought out. That is my dilemma.

When I see a complex situation as most knowledge workers see every day; it takes a bit to actually process what is going on. There are many facets of how people are interacting, what their shared understandings are, and what processes are in play to name a few. While we are expected to be able to react quickly, often they are just that: reactions. I don’t want my feedback to be purely reactionary. I want it to be proactive, well thought out, and able to be implemented in a forward motion.

While we are expected to be able to react quickly, often they are just that: reactions.

I’m an introvert and to me this means I really need time alone or with few people to process information. Often after a planning meeting or other type of ceremony, I go back and look at my notes. I read them over. I put myself back in the situation. I think about what I saw and what I didn’t see. I process it. And process it. And assess it. And them process some more. I recall memories of similar situations. I recall things I have read in books, blogs, or stories I have heard from others. Only then am I in the situation where I can truly provide meaningful feedback and advice to start moving in the right proactive direction. Some problems are cut and dry, but some definitely aren’t.

When I try to provide feedback immediately in overly complex situations, I often focus on the wrong thing. I focus on a symptom that was most obvious without looking for the root of the problem and I miss things. Sure, the feedback makes folks feel efficient in the short run, like they are proactively working on something, but in the long run it’s usually not the most important thing and they will hit similar snags before they can find their stride.

So as I have talked about personal retrospectives before, the same goes for feedback. Retrospect and provide meaningful, actionable feedback instead of reactionary feedback that may be on the wrong thing but do so in a timely manner. Try to give the feedback within a week of when you witnessed the event and also make sure you give a specific example of what you saw, heard, and what context it was in relation to. It’s ok to reflect and introvert as long as you set the expectation ahead of time with the receivers of your feedback that it may not be immediate (but it will be better for them that it’s not).