We broke into small groups of three for the final exercise of the day – the feedback session. Tired smiles slowly faded and nervous energy arose as we clicked onto the next slide:

‘In your groups, please provide feedback to your peers, using the following questions for guidance:

1) What has been your experience of xxxx over the course of the last few days?
2) What positive contribution do they make to this team/people/organisation that you value in particular?
3) What would be really useful for them to know about themselves as a leader?’

A few final reminders and guidelines from us (for example ‘assessments aren’t the truth’, ‘please be generous with your feedback’, and ‘use this as an opportunity to nourish and build each other up’), and we left them to it.

Wandering around from group to group and listening in on their conversations confirmed for me the importance of this type of conversation. So many feedback conversations in the work place are performance based, i.e. data driven with the purpose of identifying particular skills or behaviours that need developed. How encouraging it was to hear conversations along the lines of “I really value the humour you bring to the team – it seems important to you that you have fun at work.” Or, “I think it would be good for you to know that you are a core member of this team who’s contribution is really valued – I want to hear more from you!” What I heard was affirming and validating, supportive yet challenging.

At work, people can often feel like little more than human network routers, processing messages and sorting through task lists. And the feedback they receive reinforces this analogy. However, in our experience, high performing teams and individuals have the ability to give and receive great quality feedback that acknowledges another at the level of their core values and identity. People ‘seeing’ and acknowledging other people for the contribution they make.

Feedback doesn’t always have to be reserved for the six-monthly appraisal and backed by reams of data. It can be a simple, subtle, in the moment observation offered with an open-ended question, like, “I noticed you had your hand on your heart as you spoke about that – Is it something you feel really passionate about?”