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Feed-Forward - A Coaching Ourselves Module

Coaching Ourselves Collaboration Culture Renewal Henry Mintzberg organizational culture Peer 2 Peer Peer to Peer Peer to Peer Learning Personal and Team Leadership Development by Jeffrey Beeson

Focusing on the future

Feedback is an essential element of good leadership and high performance teams.  Individuals cannot function in a vacuum.  They need to know what they are doing well and what they need to improve.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith - a well known management educator and coach notes that feedback has a fundamental limitation.  Feedback by its very nature looks at the past instead of looking ahead towards the future.  This makes feedback potentially static and undynamic.  The past cannot be changed. It is in the future that possibilities for development reside.

To address this fundamental flaw in feedback Goldsmith developed the concept of Feed-Forward - a way to provide people valuable input that focuses on the future - not the past.

Henry Mintzberg's Coaching Ourselves offers a module on Feed-Forward.  The 90 minute learning experience introduces the concept and allows participants to experience both receiving and giving feed-forward to their colleagues.  The module was written for Coaching Ourselves by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and by Terence Traut - the CEO at Entelechy, a management development company.

Feed-Forward as a novel approach to feedback

The Feed-Forward approach to providing feedback takes on a new viewpoint. Instead of talking about what went wrong in the past, the emphasis of the conversation focuses on the opportunities to make improvements in the future.

How does this work in practice?  In a classic Feed-Forward module there are two protagonists - the feedforward giver and the feedforward recipient. At the start of this module, the two protagonists agree on the topic upon which they want to focus. An example of such a topic could be improving delegation skills. 

Once the topic has been determined, the feedforward giver provides ideas on what the feedforward recipient might consider to undertake. These suggestions are directed towards future opportunities for improvement, not on past behaviors which might have not been so effective. 

What makes Feed-Forward so powerful is the eagerness of the recipient to explore new opportunities for learning.  Often feedback recipients can become defensive, denying what the feedback giver is sharing with them.  In contrast, the feedforward recipient is usually keen to receive these insights which might make their lives easier and more rewarding in the future.  There is perceptibly more energy and enthusiasm in a Feed-Forward discussion than during a traditional feedback session.

An overview of the Feed-Forward module

Four people sitting around a table in discussion

Coaching Ourselves by Henry Minzberg has made the Feed-Forward approach accessible via its custom-designed module.  It is one of over 80 modules in the Coaching Ourselves repertoire.  All module storyboards are written by professors and professionals who are experts in the given topic.

A Coaching Ourselves session is typically composed of 4 people PLUS a trained  in-house Coaching Ourselves module facilitator. This individual completes a certification process during which he/she is coached to manage Coaching Ourselves modules to assure that all participants reap the maximum benefit from the experience.

How does it work in practice?  Five people come together for 90 minutes.  Each receives the module's storyboard which contains the content to be discussed by the group. The facilitator guides the discussion, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to participate and that time constraints are respected.

The Feed-Forward module begins with an overview about the importance of feedback combined with a reflection upon its potential limitations.  Participants draw from their own experience as they speak about the challenges of giving and receiving feedback.  After this initial sharing, the Feed-Forward approach is presented.

The key section of this Coaching Ourselves experience follows.  This includes a step-by-step process on how to give and receive feedback from the Feed-Forward perspective.  Supplied with this information, participants engage in real Feed-Forward experience - both as a feedforward recipient and as a feedforward giver.  There is time allotted for each participant to experience 8 feedforward rounds during the module's timeframe - 4 as a feedforward recipient and 4 as feedforward giver. 

This section of the module is a very intense experience.  Participants typically report that they receive more useful inputs during this brief exchange than they have received in the workplace over the previous weeks (or even months).  At the end of the module, participants are encouraged to select the 1 or 2 most important inputs which they would like to put into practice.

The module ends with a reflection upon the Feed-Forward experience and how this process could be introduced for the use by other Teams in the organization.  At the end of the module, a bibliography of references and sources is provided to all participants who are interested in exploring the module's theme in more depth.

Potential for company-wide impact

Silhouettes of various people in conversation

The strategic use of a Coaching Ourselves module within a organization can have an impact not only on the individuals who actively participate in the modules, but on the company culture as a whole.  Imagine a Feed-Forward experience which reaches a critical mass of employees. 90 minute modules could be held throughout the company.  A critical mass of individuals in an organization is typically reached by engaging 20% to 30% of the employees. When this critical mass of employees is reached within a pre-defined  period of time (typically from two weeks to a month), a maximum impact in the organization can be achieved. Leaders can reinforce this learning in their organizations by holding their own Feed-Forward sessions and encouraging others to do so as well. These kinds of initiatives can have a profound impact on the communication culture of the organization as a whole.

Recognizing the power of providing small group learning experiences at all levels of an organization through the Coaching Ourselves process, Ensemble Enabler offers this experience to organizations as a certified Partner of Coaching Ourselves by Henry Mintzberg.

About Author: Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson is both the founder and CAE (Chief Alignment Enabler) of Ensemble Enabler. He brings his wealth of experience in strategy consulting and leadership development to bring systemic approaches and solutions to bear on an organization's most complex challenges.