The Science Behind Team-based Feedback

An overview of the science behind team-based feedback

Jared Ellis avatar
Written by Jared Ellis
Updated over a week ago

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An overview of the science behind team-based feedback

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Performance Admin

The nature of work and thus, performance management, has been shifting considerably over the last several years. Among these changes are not only how projects and teams are structured but also how and when performance feedback is captured. Organizations are rapidly evolving from traditional hierarchies to cross-matrixed structures with more flexible, networked teams in an effort to adapt and innovate faster. These teams are often project-based, highly-collaborative, and intentionally designed to solve complex problems in a relatively short amount of time. Upon project completion, teams typically reconfigure to focus on the next big thing or disband.

However, as stated in Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, most organizations have not evolved their performance management practices to account for the shift from traditional, functional hierarchies to team-centric and network-based structures. As a result, they’re not capturing and acting on feedback in a way that optimizes collaboration, development, and individual and team success. Performance technologies need to simplify the process rather than forcing people leaders and managers to juggle the increasingly complex logistics of performance and development feedback.

Changes in how work is happening


How Things Were*

How Things Are*

  • Hierarchy dictates team structure

  • Goals and projects result from the org structure and aren’t necessarily transparent

  • Information is controlled at the top and disseminated downward

  • People are rewarded for their positions

  • Teams are comprised of individuals who may be on multiple teams

  • Goals and projects are transparent and often drive information and decision making outward

  • Free flow of information and feedback

  • Rewards are based on skills, contribution, and growth

*According to Deloitte Consulting, 2017

Of course, these changes have implications for performance management:

How Things Were:

Performance Management

How Things Are:

Performance Development

  • Feedback cycles are driven by HR

  • Reviews occurred once or twice / year

  • Feedback came primarily from Manager and thus could be highly biased

  • Managers were responsible for employee’s development

  • Feedback cycles may be driven by individuals, teams, or projects

  • Developmental feedback is frequent or on-demand

  • Feedback comes from multiple sources (teammates, colleagues, direct reports, customers) at multiple points in time to reduce bias

  • Employees are increasingly interested in and responsible for owning their own development

In these emerging project-based structures, individuals typically work in cross-functional teams with a leader who is responsible for the performance of each team. Individuals often don’t formally report to the team leader, rather, they have a separate manager who is outside the team completely.

In this scenario, although team members don’t technically report to their team leader, they still often engage in informal performance-related discussions including setting and aligning goals, establishing strategies for collaboration and achieving critical milestones and determining course corrections when necessary. Team leaders are accountable for the performance of the entire team and thus want to understand individual-level contributions toward goals while also fostering team member development.

Agile Feedback

Just as agile teams conduct post-project retrospectives to understand what worked and what didn’t at the team level, team-based feedback acts a powerful tool for helping team members and leads understand the strengths and opportunities at the individual level. Further, because many teams launch and complete projects outside of standard performance reviews, team-based feedback is particularly valuable for capturing critical behavioral data for growth and development.

In addition to contributing to the success of critical projects, team-based feedback acts as a multi-pronged source of input which helps improve feedback quality and reduce bias. As a result, managers can be better informed about their direct reports from those who work most closely with them even though those individuals may not share “official” connected lines on the org chart.

Further, employees are increasingly interested in driving their own development, and they want feedback from those they work with, especially as their work changes over time, rather than just getting feedback from their managers. In many cases, managers rarely see the actual work their direct reports do, thus, they’re not in a position to provide meaningful feedback without input from others.

How feedback drives effective teams

Based on research by Google (Project Aristotle) and findings by behavioral scientists specializing in team dynamics, there are a handful of core factors that influence team success. A few of the most influential components include:


What’s the common thread that runs through each of these components of effective teams? Candid feedback and open communication among team members and leaders.

A few recommendations on how to maximize success through team-based feedback

Develop team goals to ensure expectations are clear

  • Create a safe environment for sharing positive and constructive feedback and conduct check-ins weekly (at a minimum)

  • Follow the SMARTER approach and spend sufficient time identifying the strategies for achieving each goal at the individual and team level.

  • Make sure relevant individual goals are aligned with critical team outcomes, and team goals are aligned with organizational outcomes. Use our Team Goals Creation and Alignment Worksheet for guidance.

Communicate feedback expectations and timing

  • At the beginning of the project or sprint, communicate that informal feedback is highly encouraged throughout the cycle and that a more structured feedback process is going to take place after the midpoint or at project completion

  • If the project or team life cycle is no more than 2 months, launch Team-Based Feedback at the end to help guide individual development and inform the retrospective.

  • If the project or team life cycle is longer than 2 months, consider launching a Team Effectiveness survey around the 2-month mark to identify what’s working well at the team level and where opportunities exist for improvements. As the project wraps up, launch Team-Based Feedback.

  • Of course, it’s critical that teams have frequent (e.g., weekly) check-ins on progress, reflect on goal achievement strategies, recognize significant contributions or milestones, and provide feedback on what’s not working.

Managers should use this multi-source feedback to:

  • Recognize and reward their direct reports’ contributions

  • Guide future 1x1 discussion topics

  • Help highlight and focus developmental and training opportunities

  • Re-evaluate strategies for individual goal attainment, if necessary

Understanding the effectiveness and contributions of individuals helps us understand, in part, what drives the effectiveness of teams, yet the tools used to do so are separate. Culture Amp's Team-Based Feedback is designed to help produce feedback for individuals from their fellow team members, while Team Effectiveness is designed to measure the efficacy of the team as a whole based on feedback from the members of that team.

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