The Feedback Game, Modified
A fun little workshop to kickstart your team to openly give feedback to each other
Long time ago I received a series of professional development coaching at work. The giving feedback workshop was especially memorable, because it’s one issue that I had been pondering for years.
The issue is that we are so afraid to give feedback to the extent that we let people become stones, unable to grow. It’s confirmed by a recent article and a book that most team management mistakes are in the “ruinous empathy” situation. Thanks to the workshop, I learned how to share with others on giving feedback properly without having to preach.
The principles derived from the memorable activities:
- We picked a card containing an adjective word as a pointer to help us give a feedback for someone else, but we had to explain why. This helps us to refrain from using only adjective words to give feedback (judging, labeling).
- In the explanation, we had to give an example of the behavior that made us thought that way. This helps us to relate to a real behavior so the receiver understands which behavior was remarkable to the giver. This also helps the receiver to properly receive the feedback, too.
- The adjective words are positive and negative. We had to have a combination of both and gave each person more than one cards.
- It’s the designer’s way: just do it. Learn by doing it and then reflect how it has made you feel.
That inspiring workshop was called “The Feedback Game” by Peter Gerrickens. It’s a proprietary card game. Since I learned more about the relevant psychology behind giving and receiving feedback, I created my own workshop, using the principles above as inspirations.
In my workshop, we use the colorful self-written cards a.k.a. Post-It notes. And of course we get to use a smooth wall/glass or whiteboard instead of just a table. You get to stand up and walk a bit instead of just sitting down (yes, more calorie burnt). The colors and the movement stimulate your visual and kinetic senses, which may relax you.
And most importantly, this workshop is introvert friendly. Instead of explaining while giving the card to the person in front of you like in the card game, we get to write down in silence and explain later! How?
***** spoiler alert: if you’re not planning to be a workshop facilitator, stop reading here and send this to your team lead or people coaches at work *****
Have your team of 4 to 8 people to participate. Fewer people means each person will not get enough feedback. More people is just crowded.
Prepare Post-It notes. Try to have the number of colors as many as the number of participants.
Prepare A4 papers for the pre-workshop. Just have as many sheets as the number of participants (with a few extras).
Allocate 1 to 1.5 hours depending on the number of participants.
Because the cards are self-written, each person is not asked to write down one single adjective. Post-It notes are not too small (if you get the regular squares). We can write a whole sentence. Therefore, each participant will be asked not to use an adjective but instead write the explanation.
The explanation has to be descriptive. To help people write a descriptive sentence, we do the Visual Telephone activity inspired by the ice-breaker exercise in the DesignKit course (take the course for free!).
- Sit on a table or anywhere you find comfortable to draw and form a circle with your team. You will pass your paper to someone next to you either clockwise or counter-clockwise.
- Divide your A4 paper into 3 and draw something on the 1st part. Allow only three to five minutes to draw. Cover it. Give the paper to the person next to you.
- Describe the drawing on the 1st part in a sentence. Write it on the 2nd part. Cover it. Give the paper to the person next to you.
- Open only the 2nd part and read the sentence. Draw on the 3rd part based on the description in the sentence.
- Now, open all papers! The winning group is whose 3rd drawing is most similar to the 1st drawing.
Ask participants to reflect on the helpfulness of a descriptive sentence. Remark that they will be writing such sentences on the Post-It notes.
The Workshop, Part 1
The write-down-quietly session! Allow 15 to 20 minutes.
- On the whiteboard, make 4 to 8 areas and write a participant’s name on each. This will be the feedback wall where each participant has a space.
- Announce the hardest task: “Write two descriptions about everyone in this room except yourself. One description on one Post-It note. So you will give two Post-It notes to each person.”
- People are allowed to ask questions. Then continue: “One description is about what he/she is good at, which you think he/she needs to keep, and another description is about what he/she needs to improve.” It’s like positive and negative feedback.
- As the facilitator, you know about this workshop. As the team lead, you must know everyone, so you write on the notes, too. Lead by example. As soon as you’re done with a note, stand up and go to the board/wall to stick it under someone’s name. Sit quietly — write — get up — stick it on the wall, repeat. Of course you can stick multiple notes at a time.
- Ask the participants to follow suit even though they only finish one. You might hear some mumble “Oh, this is so hard”. Encourage them to stay calm. Give some examples.
The Workshop, Part 2
Each participant has now collected Post-It notes under their names. If there are 4 participants, including you, each participant will have 8 notes in 4 colors. The notes don’t have names, but participants will eventually know which person holds which color.
- Ask each participant to go to their wall space and read the notes.
- If they don’t understand a sentence, they’re encouraged to ask the writers for more explanation with more example behavior. Remember, the examples have to be real behavior that you can relate to the description.
- Everyone who is done with reading their feedback notes can sit down.
- Trigger conversations with everyone who sits down. As a facilitator, you ask them suggestions on how to improve from your “negative” notes, especially if several people give you the same feedback. This encourages participants to get to know more of the person to whom he/she gives feedback.
At this point, everyone may start reflecting on their feedback. Participants may have new realizations about his/her own behavior that has either been supporting or distracting his/her own growth, possibly impacting others in the team.
One interesting remark from participant: “Oh, we won’t be the same anymore after this.” Another remark was especially sweet: “We will hate each other after this,” with a joking tone.
Ask everyone to take down all Post-It notes under their names and keep them. They will serve as a nice reminder.
Participants loved the pre-workshop! They’re designers. They love to draw :)
This workshop has helped participants in understanding themselves, because we need observers to help us grow in addition to self-evaluation. Team members were also more courageous in giving feedback, because we don’t know how capable we are if we don’t try to do it. The follow-up conversations helped participants to openly discuss about the specific feedback, leading to points of improvement or how the good things have been helpful.
The result of this workshop may be shocking to those whose team members are reluctant to give feedback. Such a person may hear someone saying something about himself to his face for the first time. Yet, participants appreciated this workshop and even asked for another one in a few months.
A notable observation from their interaction post-workshop is how some of them repeated the same feedback that they had given in the workshop, e.g. “Come on, you almost overcome that panicking near deadline thing!” in an encouraging tone during collaborative sessions. This didn’t happen to everyone, though. Of course there are people who are shy, or who are naturally less critical, who need more time to get used to giving feedback.
And most importantly, they started to get used to give feedback to me. The willingness of a team leader to be vulnerable for feedback will accelerate forming an organization culture where people are more open with each other. How about trying to get the board members to have this workshop together?
This workshop can be run again with the same team. Maybe they will have new team members, or maybe they simply want to know if they have new “what to keep” and “what to improve”.
In one workshop session, a team spontaneously came with a modification (you bet, they’re creative people!). At part 2 step 3, some people moved around to other people’s wall spaces to read the feedback notes. They said “I recognized this, too,” agreeing to what was written in a note. Others followed this behavior after they were done with their notes. Some of them add “+1” sign on each note that they agreed with. Seeing so many remarks, the note receiver started a discussion with several people at once about more examples relevant to that feedback. It was rewarding to see how participants modified the workshop on the spot for a better outcome.
If you read until this point, thank you! Wanna try this workshop with your team at work? Do let me know if you’re interested to run this on your own and please give feedback on how it goes!
PS: Dear my former team members, a very huge Thank You! I appreciate your courage and curiosity in having tried this workshop with me.