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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Simple power habit 1: High quality feedback, the foundation of an elite team

Written by: on March 1, 2019

I love working on teams. Actually, that’s not true. I love working on highly effective teams. It is incredible to co-create with a group of people who are highly capable, motivated and collaborative with the same goals. I can remember multiple times when I have been on teams like this: a mission trip with Royal Servants to Europe when I was 18, our Revolution (626) team curating a forum for the creative arts, our Theologia team prepping a theology camp for High School students, chairing our ordaining board for the Free Methodist’s in Oregon. There are more. But just as easily, I can remember being on many teams that did not function well.  In each of those teams there are a variety of reasons for disfunction such as multiple or unclear vision, autocratic control by the leader, or member unwillingness to stick to the agreed upon plan of action. But one element that nearly always breaks down a team is lack of communication, particularly the lack of quality feedback.

Before writing this post, I took a few moments to think of those particular teams I have participated in that have had some major breakdowns. Of course, they will not be mentioned but thinking through each of these reminds me of the absolute necessity of choosing team members who can and will communicate feedback with one another well, especially when the topics are uncomfortable.

Communicating feedback is one of the most basic and difficult aspects of leading. This is why Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston’s book Simple Habits for Complex Times begins with methodology on feedback loops. They draw from Bill Torbert’s expertise on high-performing teams. Torbert says that, “in study after study, one thing was more clear than anything else: a team’s excellence rested on its ability to give and receive very high-quality feedback, constantly.”[1] Torbert is essentially saying that for a team to be excellent that they needed not just feedback but great feedback, and not just sometimes but all the time.

Feedback is often not what most teams or individuals want. Really, most would rather have encouragement and validation. In truth phrases like, “good job” are often more an encouragement than assessment of the job done. The meager praise or counter of half hopeful responses such as, “better luck next time” are vague and unhelpful for continued growth. To truly help a team be successful Berger and Johnston “strongly believe that in a complex and uncertain context, creating a feedback-rich, safe-to learn organization is the first thing for a team to get right (which is why we start with it here).[2]

Research shows time and again, across cultures and organizations that the problem lies in the fact that giving and receiving feedback does not come naturally to people. Those who do embrace feedback do so from learned skillsets and mindsets. As the authors of Simple Habits assess, “you have to have skills for offering the feedback, skills for listening to others, and the mindset that holds those skills together.”[3]

For those who have not read Simple Habits for Complex Times yet (it is a quality, well researched text), here is a quick reference guide for growing the feedback loop. I thought it helpful to include for my own reference as well as those teams we work with, since we are all needing this basic framework in our teams.

Mindset:

Giving feedback with the mindset of a learner makes all the difference. Understanding that we do not hold all knowledge about the other person and we have something to glean from them in the feedback process makes people less problems to be solved. Leaders should continually ask the question, “what do I have to learn here?”

Offering Feedback Skills:

Rather than trying to draw out information and expect to be the answer holder for those we are working with, it is more valuable to gain information toward the real feedback content. To offer feedback, ask questions centered around three areas, specifically, data, feelings, and impact.

Data —What actually happened in this situation? What evidence do you have? What are the facts everyone would agree upon?

Feeling —How are you feeling about this? What is the strength of the emotion you’re feeling?

Impact —What is the impact of this behavior on the workplace? How do you know this?[4]

Listening:

Being able to have a mindset of a learner enables us to hold questions around the intent of the speaker’s message. Instead of asking “What does this message mean to me?” the hearer maintains the perspective of “What does this message mean to him?”[5] This question alone creates a better listening and learning environment to shape feedback in optimal ways.

If I were to add anything else to this list, it would be to include Friendman’s work on being a well-differentiated self so that we are a non-anxious presence when approaching others with feedback.

Overall, Simple Habits for Complex Times offers an entire set of excellent methods for “asking different questions, identifying system relationships, drawing boundaries, enabling fail-safe experiments, and helping followers cope with change.”[6] The entirety of the work is based around complex systems theory, which explicates that while machines are merely a sum of their parts systems are much more than the sum of their parts and “cannot be easily managed because their behavior is often highly unpredictable.” The attached youtube video is a beautiful and simple introduction to complex systems theory for novices such as myself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfa752nng90

The reality is that the systems we are part of, whether in the church, business or family are continuing to grow more complex and we need tools for understanding and untangling them. As I have written this, I realize there are greater complexities in my own doctoral project and I need to glean more feedback from those I hope to help with regard to empowering women and people of color in the Wesleyan Tradition. I need to listen to and learn from both those in current positions of power and those who are the future of those leadership roles.

 

[1] Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. 2016. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford: Stanford Business Books. 78.

[2] Berger, 61.

[3] Ibid., 63.

[4] Ibid., 71.

[5] Ibid., 75.

[6] Gillespie, T R. “Simple habits for complex times: powerful practices for leaders, by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston.” Choice; Middletown Vol. 52, Iss. 12,  (Aug 2015): 2061.

 

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

16 responses to “Simple power habit 1: High quality feedback, the foundation of an elite team”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish!

    You made my Blog this week. Thanks for your input and help!

    You and Jake were on the same path with “positive feedback” being your focus.

    I totally agree! Who was your best boss ever, and did she give you the best feedback? My favorite boss did…

    Jay

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Thanks Jay! I am interested to see how your grants work out and am happy to keep talking. Also, the feedback aspect of the grants (post proposal and doing the thing) is really valuable. I would love to hear feedback from how the grants go afterward as well.

      My best boss’ have given great feedback. Most of my best ones have been males. Not because women were not good, just not in those positions of leadership. Although I do remember a woman who managed a small company I worked for and was really attentive to our needs yet was very honest and forthright when communicating. It was obvious she wanted the company to do well but she also cared for her employees in really important ways that made everyone stay for a long time.

  2. Great post, Trish. Yes, feedback has surfaced as critical need for mission organizations, and it is something they all struggle to do. Both giving and receiving feedback has cultural challenges as well, as the ways of seeking and reporing honest feedback politely are different in different places.

    I do think that taking the posture of a learner is helpful in any culture. Are there other ways that you have discovered that help to overcome the resistance that many have to feedback?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jenn, I think one of my favorite phrases I learned from a business coach when I worked at a dentist office. She said, when you feel frustrated and need to have a difficult conversation approach it with, “I need your help…” and then start talking about the issue. This helps to disarm the person and does not begin with an attack but a partnership. I have been using that line for nearly fifteen years and it has been huge for me in working with others.

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trish,

    I think we have learned from Meyer’s text a few weeks ago that there are cultural predispositions and American’s desire for validation and affirmation falls into that category for most of us. Genuine feedback is often seen as a threat and fosters self-doubt. Yet, if we are to apply the principles in this week’s text we need to find a way to encourage strong feedback loops.

    You have been part of healthy and dysfunctional teams, as have most of the rest of us. In your opinion was it the willingness of the group members to give and receive information in an open feedback loop that made the difference or was it something else?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Dan, I think the healthiest teams I have been on have all people focused on the goal and highly motivated to work together to achieve it. In addition, each of the people on the team are tending to their own souls enough to be able to handle challenging conversations, but even when those come it’s not personal, it’s about the work that we are doing and us all wanting to go together. There also seems to be a real element of wanting to know one another and have fun together. Those who don’t genuinely seem interested in being with teammates usually are closed to hearing from them whether in work goals or personal life. These are my off-handed thoughts. I would love to hear what your experience has been.

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    Great post! I love the focus on teams and the need for feedback. I love the quote “what does the message mean to him?” I had a boss who taught me not to listen to customers and the people who worked for me trying to fix it but she encouraged me to listen to how the situation was affecting them. I have taken that with me and I think it has helped greatly. Thanks again for the post.

    Jason

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      That’s a wise boss Jason! It seems most people tangle their own identity in the feedback of others. I know I do it sometimes. I am hoping this will help me and others by reminding about the content more than the personalization.

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Trish,
    Great synopsis of the book this week! I love the angle you took with your blog – listen more (feedback) and talk less. That was also a repeated theme at the leadership conference I attended. One speaker in particular discussed her book – Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When It’s Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) (Penguin 2014). Her book is research based and excellent. Where do you see yourself on the spectrum of receiving feedback well? Also delivering feedback well?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Jean, I will have to check that book out!

      I think I am somewhere in the middle in the way of receiving feedback. I would like to think that I am good at it but I can read between the lines a lot of times and sense what’s happening even when not spoken so I get in my head and frustrated with the other person. I think that if I have had enough sleep and prayer/personal reflection, I am pretty good at giving feedback because I will take into account what’s happening and who the person is without being overly personal to them- I will be on their team to try to help them grow.

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Trish, excellent point. Communicating feedback is so important. I get so frustrated when I never hear negative feedback from someone. It honestly makes me not trust them.

    Recently I read a book, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It was so good and all about giving immediate geniune feedback is crucial for being a good boss.

  7. Greg says:

    Trisha, I literally laugh out loud as you wrote that you thought about but would not mention those dysfunctional teams….maybe because I have sat on so many of those as well.

    I love system theory but am always learning new ways to listen….especially when I think I know the answer. I too need to think through the artifact part of this project to see if I am coming with all the answers or am listening to those around.

  8. Great post as always Trisha! Jay made sure to let me know that you and I focused our blogs on feedback so I thought I’d better read yours so I could see what I missed and give you some nice, friendly FEEDBACK on yours. 🙂 I appreciated you including the reference framework for effective feedback and I always love how you include personal examples of the topic you are writing about. I agree with you, I love working on highly effective teams as well and can’t stand working on the other ones. I also appreciated the video you included to help me understand complex systems theory. Blessings friend!

  9. Dave Watermulder says:

    Trisha,
    Great post! I feel like this was especially written for me this week as I have a few situations where I need to wade in, give feedback, and get the group moving in a healthy way again. But just like you wrote– I would rather not! So, thank you for the encouragement and the reminder to have that growth mindset, where everybody learns through the feedback process. I appreciate it!

  10. Chris Pritchett says:

    Awesome post, Trish. I resonate with the experience of being on highly effective teams, and others that are not so effective. In the Presbyterian tradition, we have a committee model that runs the church with staff. Each committee functions as a team, and mostly they are not effective because they are untrained volunteers. If we could transform our committee mindset to this concept of effective teamwork with feedback, etc., we’d make great strides as a denomination. In my experience, the dynamic of power is what usually throws a wrench in the effectiveness. Somebody lords it over someone else and the whole thing goes south. Brene’s book that we’re reading later this semester is good at imagining what a healthy team looks like, especially with regard to feedback.

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