How to Foster Good Teams Through Feedback

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Everybody likes being told they're doing a good job. Hearing it one-on-one can spur new bouts of confidence in one's work. There's a fine line between feeling proud and throwing elbows, though. Good thing we've got a methodology to overcome that.

Researchers from business schools in Germany and Spain have just released a study on using feedback to bolster team performance. Certain types and combinations of feedback can ultimately undercut a group's larger goals — more specifically, study participants who only received personal feedback on group tasks tended to act more in their own self-interest than bolstering the team. As one researcher put it, "Feedback can distort people's perceptions of a situation and turn them into competitive situations for no objective reason." However, groups that received team feedback tended to be a whole lot more cooperative overall, a move that can actually help individuals climb the social ladder and push groups to produce better outcomes.

There are huge and ongoing genres of management consulting and investigative journalism about overly competitive business practices, but new research may bear out a kinder, more prosocial template for workplace culture. Even the concept of competition itself is getting an overhaul, as is our understanding of true team-building. That doesn't mean we totally toss established means of challenging and enriching employees, but practices such as ranking are evolving to ensure they're properly applied for optimal results.

As for feedback, a bevy of studies show that taking your time can produce the best results, whether that means deeper thoughtfulness or incremental review processes. Ultimately, some things do stay the same, including being sure your feedback actually rewards the right people.