Peer feedback in the workplace plays an extremely important role in organizational success. But how people share it matters—a lot. Let’s dig into the main types of peer feedback and why it’s so important. Then, we’ll look at how to both give and receive peer feedback effectively.
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Important Benefits of Peer Feedback
Peer feedback can greatly improve performance at work. When team members can share input openly, they help each other excel—individually and collectively. So, work to encourage a strong peer feedback culture.
Why is peer feedback so important if managers are giving feedback through performance reviews (and one-on-one)? Peers often notice different aspects of one another’s performance than managers do. They may spot issues earlier and are poised to address them quickly. Plus, being able to address issues proactively feels empowering, which boosts morale.
Further, today’s managers are often overtaxed. And on remote teams, they may miss a lot of the daily interactions that happen. This makes peer feedback more important than ever.
Additionally, peer feedback can boost engagement. Employees want to give their best effort when they know their peers are counting on them.
For these reasons, teams need a strong peer feedback loop. This simply means encouraging and facilitating ongoing sharing of feedback between peers. With a strong feedback culture, everyone will feel empowered to share feedback with all of their peers.
Different Types of Constructive Peer Feedback
Let’s examine the types of feedback people can give in the workplace. Then, we’ll look at methods for delivering (and soliciting) this feedback.
The 3 Main Kinds of Feedback
Feedback comes in several varieties, as Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen write in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. They outline three main types of feedback people can receive in the workplace (or outside of it):
Appreciation motivates people by pointing out exactly what they’re doing well. Coaching feedback helps people improve in a particular way. This can involve building a skill or improving how they interact with others. Evaluation feedback conveys a judgment, telling people where they stand.
“Evaluations align expectations, clarify consequences, and inform decision making,” explain Stone and Heen. Now, this doesn’t necessarily involve a formal appraisal. Peers can informally evaluate one another, too.
Each type of feedback is important, they assert. Ideally, evaluation feedback will be coupled with coaching feedback.
Formats of Peer Feedback
Feedback can also take different formats. They range from formal methods of gathering feedback to informal ones.
Peers can have a sit-down conversation (or video call) to discuss in-depth feedback one-on-one. Often these conversations deal with patterns witnessed over time. For example, one peer might urge the other to strengthen their time management. These conversations are usually informal but can be planned and set up in advance.
In some cases, peers might pair up as “buddies” to share regular feedback in this way. This can normalize the experience of giving and receiving feedback, making it an expected part of their routine.
A 360 review provides a structured way of collecting feedback. In this method, several peers complete the same questionnaire about their coworker. In most cases, feedback is fully anonymous. This can help peers feel more comfortable speaking their minds.
Though 360 reviews are a form of evaluation, they can also contain coaching feedback. Peers can share advice on how to enhance performance.
Real-time feedback also has an important place in creating a thriving workplace. Employees can share bite-sized feedback throughout the day when appropriate. (For example, “I caught an error in that report before it got sent off to our boss. But otherwise, looks good!”)
Spontaneous vs. Planned Peer Feedback
Is planned feedback better than spontaneous feedback (or vice versa)? It depends on the topic at hand.
For more in-depth feedback, some degree of planning is usually important. Now, certain employees might be good at speaking off the cuff the moment they notice an issue. They likely have a very high level of emotional intelligence and exceptional communication skills.
But most people will deliver feedback more effectively if they take time to think it through beforehand.
Spontaneous feedback can work well for minor issues that are unlikely to take an emotional toll, however. It can also be a good way to follow up on matters you’ve already discussed. (Al, I just noticed you left the lights on in the break room—can you try to turn them off when you’re done?”)
How to Ask for Peer Feedback
Share the following strategies with employees so they’ll get quality peer feedback.
- Be clear on the type of feedback you want. Sometimes people want a quick evaluation before receiving advice, note Stone and Heen. The other person may not be that direct unless you ask for that type of feedback.
- Ask thought-provoking questions in advance. This will help the other person prepare. For example, ask, “How can I communicate better with our team?” or “How can I better support my team members?”
- If you’ve received evaluation feedback, try to get coaching feedback related to it. Ask the same peer for advice, if possible. Or, ask someone else for their input.
- Thank the other person. Showing appreciation will encourage them to share more feedback in the future.
If you’re a manager, consider implementing certain tools to facilitate the process, as we’ll discuss next.
Tools for Soliciting Peer Feedback
Use 360 review software to gather peer feedback in the workplace. This will help the process flow smoothly, giving you a template and questions to work with. Good 360 software will also prompt respondents to reply on time and will synthesize the results.
Ask a variety of peers to complete these surveys. They should include same-team peers as well as occasional collaborators across departments. Employees can also complete a self-assessment to compare how they and their peers view their performance.
How to Give Peer Feedback
Does peer feedback have any potential drawbacks? Yes. If it’s not done well, peer feedback can make people feel anxious, threatened, or demoralized. Let’s explore the dos and don’ts of giving peer feedback to ensure it has a positive effect.
- Remember that you’re on the same team. Approach the conversation with a desire to help.
- Prepare thoroughly. Even with an informal conversation, think of clear examples and takeaways. Reflect on the outcome you want to achieve.
- Aim for a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback, advises SHRM. Do this over time, not in the same conversation. “Neuroscience research has found that feedback conversations, as they commonly exist today, activate a social threat response in the brain, interfering with the ability to think clearly and raising participants’ heart rates by as much as 50 percent,” writes SHRM. “‘Strive for five’ can help lower these brain processing barriers.”
- Listen to the other person, which shows compassion. Ask for their thoughts rather than lecturing them. If they share a rationale for their behaviour, know that they’re not necessarily trying to invalidate your point. They might just want to feel understood. Hear them out so you can help them move forward.
- Focus on your own experience, not hearsay. Only speak for yourself.
- Provide specific suggestions. Refer to concrete behaviours rather than speaking abstractly.
- Tailor feedback to the other person’s professional goals when possible. And if setting up a 360 survey, align questions with these goals.
- Use passive voice to express what happened, as Brighid Gannon writes in Forbes. That means avoiding “you” statements. “The report wasn’t completed on time” sounds less accusatory than “You didn’t complete the report on deadline.”
- Share the feedback in private rather than in front of colleagues.
Your HR department can create systems for sharing feedback with remote colleagues. Instant feedback tools will encourage peers to share bite-size feedback throughout the workweek. Such tools make feedback easy to give and receive, strengthening a culture of continuous feedback.
- Ambush the other person. Ask for permission to share your thoughts. If it might be a delicate matter, set up a time to discuss it.
- Give feedback that reveals more about you than the other person. Often feedback reveals our own personal bias. As SHRM urges, ask yourself if you’d give the same feedback to someone of a different identity who displayed the same behaviour.
- Only share evaluation feedback when the other person needs coaching.
- Provide feedback when your peer is approaching a tight deadline or feeling especially stressed.
Following best practices will help avoid defensiveness. Hence, they’ll help ensure the other person will receive the feedback well.
Questions for Peer Feedback Surveys
Tailor survey questions to specific roles and levels. Questions should pertain to how an employee interacts with others and participates in team projects. These are the main areas that peers are positioned to evaluate. Here are some sample questions:
Does the employee …
- Work to solve problems?
- Complete work on time?
- Ask questions when necessary?
- Participate in team discussions?
- Manage stress effectively?
Now, we’ll share a handy template for these surveys.
Peer Feedback Template
We’re gathering feedback to support your colleague’s growth. Please answer honestly—all responses will remain anonymous! On open-ended questions, please be as specific as possible.
Rate how strongly you agree with each statement, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.
Does your peer… 1 2 3 4 5
- Complete assignments on time? 1 2 3 4 5
- Listen carefully to directions? 1 2 3 4 5
- Respond to change effectively? 1 2 3 4 5
- Maintain a positive disposition? 1 2 3 4 5
- Have strong relationships with team members? 1 2 3 4 5
- Proactively work to address problems? 1 2 3 4 5
- Work to share skills with others? 1 2 3 4 5
- Collaborate on projects effectively? 1 2 3 4 5
- Show compassion for others? 1 2 3 4 5
- Strive to gain new skills and knowledge? 1 2 3 4 5
What is your most important piece of advice for this employee regarding needs for improvement?
How could this employee work more effectively with others?
What else would you like to mention?
Thank you for your participation! Again, your responses will assist in your peer’s growth.
Helpful Peer Feedback Phrases
Your team may benefit from hearing good examples of constructive feedback. You could even use them in role-playing how to deliver feedback with your team!
Here are some example phrases introducing the topic to be discussed:
- “You’re on the right track, but I think you need to finesse your approach.”
- “I typically appreciate your strong communication, but lately, it seems to have tapered off.”
- “I feel that the timeliness of your work has improved, but the quality of your work has suffered.”
- “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem as engaged in meetings. I’d love to see you join in more.”
- “When your part of the project wasn’t completed on time, it caused some of us to scramble to meet the deadline.”
And here are some phrases seeking permission to share coaching feedback:
- “Can I share some thoughts on this topic?”
- “I’d like to make a couple of suggestions.”
- “I really appreciate you as a teammate, so I want to share a suggestion. I hope you’ll feel free to do the same in the future.”
Finally, let’s discuss how to use the feedback you’ve collected.
Working with Peer Feedback
What to do with peer feedback results?
Encourage employees to track informal feedback to observe progress over time. Managers should track feedback employees have gained through certain channels, too. For example, they can track feedback from 360 surveys (and possibly instant feedback). This establishes a baseline that employees can build from.
After a 360 survey, discuss the results one-on-one with the employee. Work with them to set personal goals based on what they’ve learned.
Encourage employees to approach their manager if they have lingering questions about feedback they’ve received. Sometimes it can help to get a second perspective. Talking with another peer can also help provide clarity. As employees strive to grow from the feedback, you’ll likely see both their personal and team performance improve—often substantially!