Harnessing Feedback Loops: How to Make Your Team More Productive

updated on 30 March 2021

As a team leader, harnessing the power of feedback loops is crucial towards maintaining a productive, unconfined, and accessible workplace. Clear and honest communication is essential to the reciprocal relationship between a team leader and their stakeholders.

Positive feedback loops are a fundamental concept in psychology. The idea behind them is simple: Giving people feedback about their actions promptly without stirring up fear of reprisal results in them working toward better behaviors.

Consequently, you’re rewarded with coordinated, collaborative, and committed business. Coincidingly, a sense of proactive and shared ownership is maintained within the team.

What do positive feedback loops involve?

Woman thinking
Woman thinking

To begin with, you must have an understanding of your stakeholders. That way, you’ll have a relative vantage point from which to view their individual performances. To get an overall sense of their influence over the team, it’s worth looking over their recent work or activities to gauge the quality of their input. 

Naturally, the results of this analysis should be put into perspective using references to past work. Take notice of any trends or aberrations from the ‘norm.’ Are there any noticeable ‘pain points’ or areas lacking vital information?

Following up with team members

Without regular follow-ups, the feedback loop is broken. Without being aware that there’s room to improve, stakeholders are much more likely to allow their input to stagnate or worsen. Or, they’ll continue to make improvements without hitting the mark. Essentially, if there’s an absence of a feedback loop, stakeholders are left without guidance.

While the act of following up may sound simple, it’s often one of the most challenging parts of the looping technique. As a team leader, you handle copious amounts of ambiguity every day. It’s your job to reach into this amorphous cloud and make sense of it. Subsequently, you communicate your comprehensive, constructive criticism or commendations to your team in whatever way you see fit. 

In theory, this is an ideal strategy. However, it’s not watertight. Often, important details will slip through the cracks or come to light too late. And since you’re human, you may forget to factor in an opinion or jumble your figures, or perhaps you’re just looking to complete the feedback loop – this is where follow-ups come into play.

While a follow-up can also be used for patching up any previous mistakes, it’s also an opportunity to further develop relationships between you and stakeholders.

Your main aim during a follow-up is to make a stakeholder feel at ease in the project. They should feel that they can come to you with questions or ask for your advice without fear of retribution. So, it’s not all about filling them in or correcting mistakes – it’s about touching base.

However, repeatedly contacting your stakeholders can get annoying – fast. While it’s true that everyone wants to be kept up-to-date and clued in, multiple interruptions for follow-ups can become time-consuming and bothersome.

Here’s how to strategize so that you can keep your follow-up number low while not appearing too hands-off:

  • Define the desired outcome of meetings.
  • In-depth planning – plan detailed questions beforehand.
  • Prepare materials for review. 

It’s worth going into depth on what active listening means and how it can be implemented into your day-to-day as a team leader. The basics of active listening are simple. The core premise is attentively listening to what an individual or a group has to say without interruption. All-the-while, the listener should be making an attempt to properly understand what is being said and process it so that adequate feedback can be given.

Good techniques for practicing active listening as a team leader are asking open-ended questions when scoping for opinions followed by specific questions to seek clarification. Demonstrating concern for what is being said by paraphrasing, using non-verbal cues such as head nods, or brief verbal affirmations such as “I see” or “sure” are all excellent active listening practices. 

The aim of active listening is to establish rapport and trust among both the speaker and listener. 

How follow ups can be enacted across the board

As a team leader, you’re already aware of their diverse and varied backgrounds, which is a great thing! Having a diverse culture contributes to overall team productivity and creativity, which leads to better engagement of team members overall. It is rare that two stakeholders in the same team will have the same personal goals, skills, or corporation origin.

It just so happens that cross-functional teams are in high demand due to customer expectations of personalized, high-touch customer experience. However, their complex frameworks are not always easy to manage.

A Harvard Business Review report found that 75 percent of cross-functional teams fail on at least three of five criteria:

  • Meeting a planned budget.
  • Staying on schedule.
  • Adhering to specifications.
  • Meeting customer expectations.
  • Maintaining alignment with the company’s corporate goals.

The reason given for the 75% fail rate was mainly poor leadership.

Much like during a stakeholder meeting, all cross-functional team members work towards the same goal despite their diverse skill sets. However, communication problems often arise, leading to cross-wires and misunderstandings.

As a leader, you want to identify and implement improvements across your team's value stream, which can be achieved through offering positive feedback regularly.

This may sound familiar to you as it’s the same modus operandi as follow-ups. However, follow-ups, when applied to cross-functional teams, take on another shape. 

Cross-functional communication should put emphasis on the group as a whole, rather than the individual. To ensure feedback is distributed evenly among the team, collaborative communication is vital. Project management and office communication tools can enable much of this collaboration as long as your teams know how to use each tool effectively. Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams and Zoom are currently some of the collaborative tools of choice among most corporations.

friends laughing while watch something in their notebook
friends laughing while watch something in their notebook

Moreover, as with most business processes, you must prepare yourself for a certain degree of failure or difficulty while dealing with cross-functional teams. You will witness team members jostling for power, influence, and limited resources.

Final Thoughts

As a leader, it is your job to embrace difficulties and enact conflict resolutions. Differences in opinion are often nothing more than masked opportunities for growth and new ideas. 

Ensuring that all cross-functional team members have a precise idea of their shared goal is essential to forming a streamlined, cohesive team that turns out stellar results.

Metacosm lets you unburden your thoughts and experiences with others by allowing you to sort through your open loops so that you can build more meaningful relationships despite your overwhelming, fast-changing environment. This helps you to keep track of complex stakeholder relationships in a hyper-efficient manner.

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