Feedback Feast; the meal you’ll digest for a year

How often do we get feedback from our friends and colleagues that we allow to deeply influence what (and how) we do next?

Whether it’s the pace of moving from project to project, the fear of getting feedback that you don’t know how to respond to, or anything else; coming up with reasons not to seek feedback is easy. But when you’re at a turning point — changing phases in your venture, moving countries, or reevaluating your goals, getting feedback on your behaviours and attitudes can help remind you of your best self.

Welcome to a recipe for the Feedback Feast. We’ll introduce you to the ingredients, the preparation and show you how to get it cooking the way we have tried it. We can’t promise you’ll be a great chef straight away — so be prepared to try a couple of versions. This is just one way of getting deep and personal feedback; find a process which works for you and your community.

Sitting around a candle-lit table one evening, surrounded by 7 of our closest colleagues and friends, we poured wine and whiskey and settled in for a 3 hour conversation designed to bring out the best in myself and another friend. From tasting the special three course meal cooked by friends hands, to listening to the most personally poignant, critical comments, the evening left us all feeling very full.

Prototyping the Feedback Feast is another creative response from members of the Enspiral Network to build culture instead of hierarchy while pushing the edge of our personal and collective work on social change. Without annual performance reviews, salary raises or even consistent managers, our feedback culture is informal and inconsistent. Armed with a runsheet and a vision, we want to share this idea for making it easier to say to each other what you want to say, to bring out the best in everyone.


What is a feedback feast?

The Feedback Feast is a semi-formal dinner hosted by two people who both want radical amounts of feedback, attended by 3 close colleagues of each person (6 total) who come ready to be honest and constructive. Hosts want feedback to improve themselves and improve their ability to do world-changing work in a powerful, considerate and strengths-based way.

Key design features of Feedback Feast

  • Mental preparation
    Everyone needs to be ready and in a good space to give good feedback and to take everything on board without defensiveness or anxiety. Send out emails helping people prepare, and talk about techniques for feedback-giving at the beginning of the night.
  • Spacious and flexible
    Ideally held on a weekend evening rather than a school night so everyone comes into it relaxed and feels they can speak like friends rather than having just walked out of a meeting together.
    The program of the night should be allowed to change based on when people can arrive and depart, energy levels and the timing of the dinner being ready.
  • Personal and intimate
    Held in someone’s kitchen and living room, and cooked by either the hosts or some devoted friends who want to help you out, invite people to be real with each other through hosting your participants warmly and personally. Imagine trying to give each other deep feedback in a loud, fluorescent restaurant, that’s basically the opposite of what you want.
  • Constructive and future-focussed
    The reason for gathering feedback is to improve. The tone of the Feast should be focussed on using insights from the past to help with your future, rather than just teasing apart the past.

Key ingredients for your Feedback Feast:

(Change to taste)

Before the night

Why? Make sure you clarify for yourself what is the kind of input you’re seeking at this time — let them know if you have a specific question or turning point in your life that you are focused on.

Who? Consider which of your colleagues might be interested in a process like this and who knows enough about you to provide deep and thoughtful comments. If possible it is best for the three people from each side to also know each other.

When? Find a time which works for everyone

Where? In a home, it doesn’t have to be yours, but you need permission to take up all the energetic space in the living and eating areas for a solid half day including cooking.

How? Work out with your co-hosting buddy how you want to run the process of the night to suit you both.

On the night

Appetizers and Arrivals

  • Opening the night between 4–6pm will allow you to finish up between 7–10pm
    Begin the evening connecting the dots and opening everyone’s mind about the relationships you have to one another.
  • Hosts begin by explaining why they want feedback, and what kind of feedback they’re most interested in. Explain the evening flow overall and show people where you will eat and where the bathrooms are. Bring out snacks and drinks and invite the room to tell a circle of origin stories. How did you come to know the people we’re feedbacking tonight? What were your first impressions when you met? The answer to the first impressions question can act as feedback in itself. Invite people to also say how they’re feeling in their life at the moment, as well as any feelings they have about this event. For example someone might be having a hard time at work and they’re also feeling nervous about the Feedback process. Hearing someone say this can allow everyone to make them feel more welcome.
An simple example of SWOT notes including example feedback

SWOTting the scene

  • After a round of stories, the primary format for feedback (at least in the way we have tried so far) is SWOT analysis. Open the real feedback section by having a short conversation about “What is good feedbacking?”. Some ideas include: Making feedback about suggested behaviour change rather than about how they innately are, so that it’s not shameful and it’s actionable. Making feedback about an observation of someone’s patterns and then inviting that person to consider what might be driving those patterns. Making feedback balanced to address their greatest talents as well as areas to improve.
  • SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Make sure everyone’s drinks are topped up and give everyone paper. It’s time for silent note taking on SWOTting for each person who has invited feedback. This may seem like a boring prompt — feel free to try something else. We find it rich; strengths like “you’re a natural at navigating complex emotional stuff at work”, or weaknesses like “you confuse your start up’s traction with ticking off things on your operational to-do list”. Not everyone in the room may know both hosts deeply enough to give feedback on both. It’s okay if a guest only does one SWOT. Give everyone at least 10 minutes to make silent notes on what they see as Strengths, Threats etc for each host. If guests are SWOTing two people, you may have 20 minutes silent writing in total. (Meanwhile dinner preparation can happen and the table can be set.)
TIP: It’s useful for people receiving feedback to fill out a SWOT for themselves so they can get in the mindset of thinking about their own attributes and realise what they already know they need to work on.

The Feast

  • Sit at the table together when the food is ready (getting the timing right here can be a challenge), and begin the two circles of feedback. Starting with a focus on one person and then the other, kick-off the process with one of the two hosts sharing their SWOT about themselves.
  • Then every participant is invited to share their SWOT notes on the first feedback-recipient, one by one as everyone eats. The host / feedback-ee will need to eat and take notes at the same time to capture their feedback (or record an audio clip). When all the SWOTs are shared, switch the focus to the next feedback recipient and go around the group again.
  • We noticed a huge feeling of generosity in the room as the gift of delicious food and the gift of compassionate self-awareness are traded.
  • Hosts / Feedback-recipients are not to respond to their SWOT-sharing-friends, but they can ask clarifying questions to better understand the feedback. Leave defensiveness at the door, and just say thank you for their perspective.
TIP: encourage people to keep their feedback sharing quick and focussed, as it’s easy to talk late into the night. It feels great to go into detail and get a lot of input, but this might be hard on the second person to receive feedback when everyone is already very mentally tired from the first round. 
Be sensitive to pace and level of detail.

Just desserts

  • If you have time, consider an extra section of the evening; strategic questions.
    What are some key questions you’re wondering about yourself that you would love to know the answers to?
  • Consider running a shorter (time-bound) round of feedback on specific questions which you select as an individual.
  • Examples we have used include: 
    “What would you not trust me to do?”
    “What is the biggest challenge you think I need to overcome personally?” “If you could decide the future of my career, what would you have me focus on and build towards?”
    “How would you use my next 10 years?”
TIP: Help people get home when they want to leave, whether it’s when their partner calls saying it’s time to put their baby to bed or when everyone is tired and all the wine is gone.

After the event

When everyone has left and you’re sitting on your bed reading the notes you took, 
be nice to yourself.

It will be scary to feel so exposed and so seen.

Dr Brene Brown (Sociologist of Shame and Vulnerability) warns us about Vulnerability Hangovers after moments like the Feedback Feast. You put yourself out there, be kind to yourself and relax as you make sense of what just happened.

TIP: Thank everyone who attended with a follow up email and explain what they helped you learn.

As you look forward to 2016 and the coming year, ask yourself — could I use some feedback?

Whether it’s a Feedback Feast or something simpler, inviting others to share their hopes for you is an incredible thing for you to do for yourself as well as an incredible way to grow your relationship with others and grow a culture of feedback more broadly in your networks.

Get in touch with us at Enspiral.com for more information about our collaborative network experiments.

With love and open-sauce,
Chelsea Robinson, Derek Razo, Silvia Zuur and Joshua Vial