Use feedback to speak potential

If you ever had a leader who spoke about your potential you will never forget how much power that released in you. Therefore learn how to address the hidden potential in your mentees to grow your team.

“Now we speak of your weaknesses … hm … I should have said ‘potential areas to grow'”, my project leader winks at me with a conspirative smile. Someone must have told him that speaking of ‘weaknesses’ isn’t cool anymore – and therefore he needs to use a cover word. But the intention of his next sentences was clear: to show me areas where I fall short in his opinion. I hated working for him.

I guess, if you are around in business for a few years you know those feedback situations. You might even have learned in trainings to use cover words yourself and somehow work through feedback sessions – unsure what to say and how to say it. Or even convinced that this is the final day of judgement where you can tell your co-workers all the stuff you hate about them.

And then, there are those great people in businesses – real mentors who speak to you and afterwards you feel positive and stronger. Not because the content is only polished-positive but because they somehow speak in a way that you can actually use to grow.

In the past years, this monitored discrepancy made me wonder and search what feedback actually is meant for and how it can be delivered in order to see people benefit from it.

What is feedback?

By definition feedback consists of two attributes: Firstly, there needs to be an observation of something that happened – e.g. by a team member in the workplace. Secondly, this observation must be useful to leverage a change on it and therefore lead to improvement.

feedback/ˈfiːdbak/

information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Dictionary

For example: A colleague sends out an important email to a wrong address. A useful feedback could be: The email was sent to the wrong address (description of what happened). You seemed to be under timely pressure and therefore you didn’t ask a colleague for review (sharing the observation). When you need to send an important email the next time, please ask someone for review (explanation of a potential improvement).

Feedback brings awareness to an area of unconsciousness. And by getting to know the information, one can get better.

Use feedback to light a fire

For sure, sometimes feedback needs to focus on behaviour that limits the career of a colleague. And by giving examples of their doing they are set free to change.

But what do you think of this perspective: Use feedback not only to state situations where a person failed but rather in which he/she has been really really excelled. There are a lot of people who outgrow themselves when you emphasize their strengths. Ask yourself: What does your mentee unconsciously do positively and needs to be pointed out?

Lately, one of my teammates needed to present a difficult topic to the client. We rehearsed the essential parts. Then the big day was there. She performed brilliantly on stage. Which I told her afterwards. But I did not stop there. I described all aspects of her strong performance precisely so that she could see why it was very successful. I even emphasized on her strength as a speaker and told her that I want to see her on larger stages and that she has a voice to be heard. She beamed for joy.

Another colleague of mine always did a great job but stayed somewhat silent in the overall group – you could almost miss that he was there. In feedbacks I emphasized on the very trustworthy results. Those results should be shown to others. They were proof of a brilliant mind. And we as a team would love to see more of the smart person behind the reliable work. Step by step the colleague became more visible and spoke about his contribution to the project.

Adress the potential!

In addition to giving feedback you can grow your mentees on purpose by getting to know their strengths. Here are some ideas: ask your people what they are dreaming about. What is his/her goal? Where lies the passion? Take some time to think: Is there any possibility for you to give your mentee a stage to live his/her passion? Here are some examples:

  • (1) Did you just hear that he/she likes to speak in front of many people? – Find a client or internal meeting and give him/her the role of the moderator.
  • (2) Did you hear a certain topic (that you are not familiar with)? – Find a colleague and connect them so that your team member can pursue his/her passion.
  • (3) Did you hear he/she loves to work alone on a difficult problem and find the solution? – Find a project in which that strength plays out.

Seeing people walk in their strength with joy and passion, lifts my mood. Therefore I always try to speak about the potential I see in people. Sometimes they are not aware of it themselves or they are unsure whether they are allowed to follow their dream. To give these people a special kick by a wholeheartedly feedback regarding their potential, is pure joy.

Try it, too.

Teambonding

A team that sticks together because they like each other is much stronger than a team just focussing on the same cause. Get some inspiration how you can intensify the bonding in your team.

“I remember best the meeting in Brussels,” a colleague shares her memories. “We had to improvise in the very last hour before the event – and with some creativity we made it happen.” The whole team is gathered together and celebrates the past months by sharing funny stories and deep learnings. Some team members will leave soon as their contract is ending, and we are taking a moment of thankfulness and appreciation. Everyone listens, everyone shares some insights, all laugh together.

Teambonding.

When you already have a team, it is essential to create events and moments of memory on a regular basis. Those shared memories create a bonding that survives all the stress the daily hustle throws at your people. It is the strong invisible game changer that lets your team thrive in hard project phases where others fail.

But how can you create meaningful moments? Here are some inspirational thoughts.

Moments of Thankfulness

Pick one or two days in a year in which you dedicate some time to share what you are thankful for. Let people know beforehand that they will need to share their stories, too. That way you give them time to think and prepare themselves. Make it a bit fun by asking them to find a matching headline, movie title or hashtag. It helps them to focus on the real essence.

Moments of Appreciation

When you plan a meeting prepare some gifts and warm words in advance. Encourage your team to tell each other which strengths they like about each other. Act as a good example by handing out some meaningful gifts and add a personal note by highlighting specific attitudes and behaviors that you value within your team mates. Give them some time and space to also share their opinions and feelings.

Make the moment last

Have you ever had a great day at work – and the very next day it seemed to be forgotten and you are in your hustle again? Human beings tend to forget the cool stuff quite quickly and go back into complain-mode or pity-party. If you want to help your team to remember their value and worth, create a written proof with everyone on the day when you meet.

Here are some ideas:

  • Write all your cool hashtags and movie titles on a board. Maybe do it in a fun creative colourful way. And then take your team picture in front of it.
  • Share pictures of the event afterwards
  • The letter of appreciation that is written by all to everyone. Here is how: Give each team member pen and paper. Each one writes his/her name on top and passes the paper to the next person. That person writes compliments, strengths and positive adjectives on the paper that is dedicated to the colleagues name on the top. After a few minutes you pass the paper on until everyone has given a compliment to everyone. That way everyone takes a visible proof back home.

In the mentioned team meeting we actually wrote the letter of appreciation to one another. When everyone had the chance to read the dedicated lines, you could see the smiles on everyone’s face. It was an awesome moment in silence. Appreciation settled in. And while the sun was clothing the sky above us in golden light we were all filled with joy and stronger bond to one another.  

How to have a great team meeting

Having sat in way too many boring meetings, I set up an agenda that involves all participants and makes our weekly meeting fun. Get some inspiration in this article.

“With you, guys, I can be honest. You feel like friends.” is one of the best sentences I have heard in my latest team meeting. Though we are basically a virtual team – seeing each other 4 times a year – we managed within a year through weekly calls to build a strong team that connects on a deeper level. Now everyone looks forward to our team call and leaves the 30 minute-talk laughing and refreshed.

While a lot of people might think that this was just pure luck, I know that there are certain principles that pathed the way for this team to evolve. Let me share a few of them with you.

Regularity builds trust

Setting the scene is essential for a great play. Therefore team building starts with some administrative stuff that frames your playfield. You need to decide, when does the team meet where for how long.

Find a day and time that is usually not booked in your company and when all team members are available without having stress to make it. In order for people to remember the last meeting and to get a feeling of regularity, I suggest to use a weekly rhythm. In that way people don’t miss too much if they are on vacation or on sick-leave. In addition, choose a length that is manageable: 20 – 30 minutes are totally enough to build a strong team.

Especially in the beginning of creating a team it is crucial to not miss one team meeting/call. Choose the timing so well and stable that it doesn’t have to be changed in the first months. As a leader you have to make that meeting your very priority. The people attending will easily feel whether you are committed or if you already skip meetings in the beginning. The regularity of that meeting/call already builds trust – trust in you as a leader that you are doing what you told your team. Trust me – if you skip a meeting in the first few month, no one will give you a bad feedback, but it will have a negative effect on your team building.

Congratulation, now you are set up and the game can start. Let’s have a look at the agenda.

Use the agenda for the right dynamic

What is the one thing everyone loves talking about?

Themselves.

It’s true. If people tell stories they usually talk about themselves. This is how we are made. We feel important and part of a group when people take time to listen to us. And therefore that component should be essential in your team meeting/call. Everyone gets the chance to speak and be heard because it raises the engagement in the meeting/call of every attendee. In addition, it helps your team to get present and be in the here and now.

Here is an easy way to start a meeting in which everyone is heard: Every team member gets 2 minutes to share their thoughts in the beginning about 2 categories.

  1. Work
  2. Personal insight

For the category Work you can ask: How was your week? On which project are you working? What is the latest update and status? (pick one question)

Questions in this category help your team members to reflect upon the week. They have a break in their hustle and ask themselves where they are at. Which such a question you give your people a platform to get present. In addition, that type of a question triggers the logical side of the brain and it is an easy start to share some thoughts because it is the main mental area your people work with on a daily basis.

The category Personal insight is much more creative and builds a balance to the logical question No. 1. You can ask: What was your highlight this week? What are you grateful for? What made you laugh?

These questions are also reflection questions but they connect to positive emotions. And those emotions are the glue that you need in your meeting/call so that people connect. Your team needs to laugh together. They need to celebrate successes together. These positive moments will create a team spirit no task can ever do.

You – the moderator of the meeting/call – are responsible for setting the scene. Explain the 2-minute-rule and ask the questions. Comment gently on each contribution – especially when you are in a call and cannot see each other. A nice “thank you” or “well done” creates interaction. Make sure you share your 2 minutes, too. It is very important that there is an equality between all attendees although you are the moderator.

With this start you have used 1/2 – 2/3 of the meeting/call. And that is totally fine. It is the most important part. In the beginning of your team meetings people will share high level information. Trust needs to evolve over time. But soon you will see that they are opening up. And seeing the team grow is pure beauty.

the Positive ending

After the contribution of everyone you can bring in all the admin-stuff and knowhow that needs to be shared. Whatever you or a team member wants to share stay in a 3-minute slot for each topic. You want a meeting/call as easy and light as possible. In the beginning the 3-minute restriction feels like a burden, but soon you will realize how much can be shared in that time without creating information overload.

When you head for the end of the call invest a little bit in positive vibes. Raise your voice, bring in emotion. Invest in the good mood of everyone. This has nothing to do with being fake – but as a leader of the call you are responsible to bring in a good laugh and joyful atmosphere. Trust me, everyone is more likely to come to the next call when they know they will leave the meeting/call with more energy than they attended.

Words have power

There are words I will never forget – for good and for bad. The power of words can be used to build people up or destroy relationships – How do you use your words?

Can you remember the first time you heard the words “I love you”!? Your world changed. It felt like magic. That emotion running through your veins was indescribable. Three little words – with impact. Same is true for negative words. Ever heard a “you will never succeed in this”? What impact did it have? Remember that disbelief or disgust from a teacher or trainer? I guess you can still recall that pain those words caused.

There is something in us human beings that we react upon words – regardless whether they are true. Usually we don’t filter. We hear. We feel. We react. Words can hurt like knives. And at the same time words can bring healing and uplifting. It all depends on the speaker.

How can you use this power in your workplace?

When you think of your ideal workplace – how would you like to work with your colleagues? What should be the atmosphere in your team? For example, I enjoy having a team that likes each other. I love to hear laughter and a loud “hey, good to see you! how are you doing?” when people from my team meet each other.

So, what do I do? I model exact that behaviour. I greet my team. I tell them how happy I am that they are there (and I am truly happy that each one of them is in my team!). I use words to express what I am feeling. Otherwise they wouldn’t know. And because they feel welcome, they are at ease and enjoy being around. And from what I am seeing – they are continuing to welcome new people in the team and extend the good atmosphere themselves.

How can you build your team with this power?

Your team consists of individuals. And you have to invest in each person individually in order to get a great team. What do I mean? When you are in a feedback session use the time well to speak potential into your people. Aside from the “well done here” and “please improve there” find time to speak about the future roles and responsibilities you see them in. Specify which strengths you see and where these attributes will contribute to the career of your team member.

When your team member hears you speaking strength and life into his/her life, he/she will start growing. It strengthens his/her self-esteem and self-believe. And that grown person will contribute to the team in the future – consequently the team grows.

How do you know what to speak?

If you are unsure whether you should make that statement let it run through this filter:

  1. Is the statement true?
  2. Is the statement helpful for the other person?
  3. Can you speak it kindly? (meaning: with a kind intention)

If you asked yourself, you would immediately know that you would only want feedback spoken in that way: true, helpful, kind. Yet, very often we tend to be harsh, unfair or angry.

BUT: “I am not a person of words”

Quite often the discussion on speaking to each other hits the “I am not a person of words” argument. Meaning: I don’t want to speak to my team. (I assume you have the ability to speak, so the only reason you do not use this ability is a pure choice.)

You can choose in life whatever you want: speech or silence. But don’t expect people to know what you are thinking. Quite often frustration joins the discussion: “but they should know…” This is based on the assumption that the logic of your brain must be the logic of all brains – especially of your team members. To make that clear: You are responsible to speak your mind. If you choose to stay silent, it will have consequences, e.g. a team that is not doing what you want.

Words have the power to transform your team. So does silence. You choose what you want to model.

Spread the Passion

“Wer keine Leidenschaft versprüht, sollte nicht leiten, denn beide, Freude und Frustration, stecken andere an” [Tomas Härry | Von der Kunst, andere zu führen]

> Who doesn’t spread passion, shouldn’t lead, because both, joy and frustration, infect others <

“What made your week?” is a classical opening question to my team’s weekly 30min call on Fridays. Each one shares highlights, moments of victory and situations to be thankful for.

Even after a long week I tend to leave the teamcall uplifted and strengthened because I have heard so many positive reports that my passion for my team and job is fueled again.

One Friday I thought it might be helpful to also talk about the downtimes of a week – just to lead in a balanced way.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened…

After the first person shared his/her frustration the atmosphere already shifted to the bad. It became more intense when more people shared their bad moments… until everybody was quiet and depressed within 10minutes. Uff!

I am a skilled moderator – but this team dynamic that I started was hard to handle. I always try to end the call positive – but in this case I hardly made it to sealevel before ending.

Sharing my view with a colleague, we both agreed that the question for frustration didn’t do any good at all. And will never be asked again!

When leading people, we need to be aware and conscious of what we want to achieve. As leaders we are in charge of the topics shared and the atmosphere created – including handling our very own frustrations.

So – what are we doing with the downtimes of our weeks?

For sure there need to be sessions with a team where frustrations can be adressed openly. But we must be aware that we need to be one place, talking face2face and have enough time to sort things out. We need to have time to recover from the bad emotion and work through it, so that we can leave the meeting in a good mood.

As leaders we need to work through our emotion in advance – being a good example and not crashing a whole team with our negativity. Harder done than said. But worth it when having a highly motivated team at the end.

I want to challenge and encourage to stop talking about your frustrations and instead start lifting others up, celebrate successes and bring a positive atmosphere to your team.