The Boss Doesn’t Always Know Best

Bosses:  sometimes your team is going to go above and beyond the call of duty, and you’re not even going to notice. It happens. Unless you spend your days micromanaging — and nobody ever wants this — you’re not going to see every amazing thing they do.

Why is this important? Because it means you’re lacking important information about how people are doing and so, are less able and likely to give feedback.

Feedback in the workplace is essential for making progress. So if you can’t know everything that’s going on at work, how can you create a great culture of frequent, helpful feedback?

That’s where peer feedback comes in.

The Value of Peer Feedback

Asking your team to give feedback to each other is a great way to make sure people get the recognition they deserve and understand how they can improve.

I’m not talking about the kind of peer reviews where employees are asked to rate their co-workers in secret. At Contactzilla, we ask our team members to give each other a pat on the back, thank people for hard work, and let them know what they could be doing to improve, both publicly and privately. Using tools and practices, you can make it quick and easy for your team members to give each other feedback as part of a daily or weekly routine.

It’s working wonders for us and here’s why:

The boss doesn’t always know best.

As a “boss” myself, I’m aware that members of the team can have a deeper knowledge and understanding of each other’s work than I do. They’re the ones closest to what’s happening every day.

I actively encourage people to help each other and share their skills. We’ve found that everyone grows to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can provide support and advice in a way that management often can’t.

Take our web developers, for example. While I might question their methodology and suggest alternatives, they always respect it more when it comes from another web developer who they know understands the process better than I do.

Co-workers make up a valuable support system.

There’s nothing quite like seeing people on a team congratulating each other for their hard work.

Positive feedback such as a simple thanks or recognizing progress is incredibly motivating.  Research by Adam Grant and Francesca Gino shows that gratitude makes you feel valued, which helps push you to work harder.

Acknowledging small wins and progress with positive feedback can also motivate your team to become more productive in the long term. When that acknowledgment comes from your co-worker, it helps you feel respected and valued as part of a strong team.

And if the feedback isn’t positive?

The non-hierarchical nature of a co-worker relationship can make negative feedback less threatening and more like the offer of helpful advice it should be. A three-year study by leadership training firm Leadership IQ revealed that new hires who are good at accepting and learning from negative feedback are much more likely to succeed in their jobs than those who don’t. Building a friendly, open culture will allow constructive and negative feedback to play a crucial role in helping co-workers understand how to succeed.

Informal feedback isn’t mandatory but meaningful.

In many workplaces, feedback tends to be more of a formality than a means of actually helping people develop and grow. Everyone expects annual reviews, maybe even a pat on the back from management for going above and beyond. That’s exactly what’s so special and meaningful about receiving feedback from your peers — they don’t actually have to give it.

Say Kylie on my team wrote an incredible blog post that brought in thousands of unique page views. I’ll thank her for her hard work and congratulate her on doing a great job.

What’s really special about peer feedback, however, is receiving recognition from someone who doesn’t have the direct responsibility to do so. One team member’s work might not directly affect another’s, but when people get a pat on the back from a peer, it never fails to put a smile on their face.

How to Make Peer Feedback Work for You

There’s no doubt that peer feedback can have wonderful effects on your team. People feel happy, valued, and motivated to work harder in the long run. So how can you make peer feedback work for your team?

Open opportunities to discuss work and wins:

Daily or weekly team meetings provide a great way to get the peer feedback ball rolling. Every Monday morning, we sit down and chat about the previous week and what’s coming up. We ask team members to talk about what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been doing it. Not only does this help us all stay in the loop, but it gives everyone the opportunity to pipe up with feedback. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner even starts his meetings by asking his reports to explicitly share their wins, both personal and professional, from the past week.

Use tools that facilitate communication and feedback:

There are plenty of online tools that can help facilitate and establish peer feedback as a part of your office culture.

You can even build your own. Shopify is a company that values peer feedback so much that they built their own internal tool to enable its employees thank each other and crowdsource bonuses.

Actively foster a culture of support:

We encourage our team to work closely, help each other out, and share their skills. As a boss, you might have to prompt people to talk to each other — especially those who don’t normally interact due to their different duties — rather than sticking within the confines of a manager-report discussion. Now at Contactzilla, there’s always somebody willing to help check over work, give advice if things aren’t going well, and a high-five when it is.

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However you choose to encourage it, peer feedback will pay dividends and help you create the culture of openness and gratitude you always wanted.

What are some ways you encourage peer feedback?

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Image: adapted from EvanHahn/Flickr