my department is making us give each other “group feedback” while standing in a line

A reader writes:

I’d like to know your thoughts about a new “best practice” that is about to be implemented in the department I work for.

Some days ago, our manager and team leaders sent us an online survey asking our opinion about the best way to get feedback about our work and work habits. 100% voted to get feedback and 70% voted to get one-on-one feedback. But in our last meeting, team leaders explained the dynamic to get feedback: people would form two lines facing each other and then one person would give feedback to the person they are facing. Or get the team together and every member would get a “group feedback.”

I’m not really confortable with that. If I’m screwing up, I’d appreciate feedback telling me what I am doing wrong. But I’d like to have this talk in private with my manager and/or team leader, not getting exposed in front of the whole team. I don’t even feel comfortable being praised in public!

What do you think about this situation? If “group feedback” is actually a good idea, what would be the best way to handle it?

What the hell?

Seriously, you have to stand in a line across from each other and then give feedback to the person who happens to be across from you? It sounds like some sort of catty teenage girl ritual where you all tell each other what you don’t like about each other and then there’s crying and yelling.

I have so many questions:

  • Where is your manager in all this?
  • Why did she need to take a freaking survey to find out that people want to get feedback on their work?
  • Why is the idea of getting feedback up for a vote? If people had voted against feedback, would the manager have gone along with not giving feedback?
  • Why isn’t your manager already giving people feedback — in private, one-on-one — which is one of the most basic functions of a manager?
  • Is your manager going to crowdsource all the other pieces of her jobs too? Will you play Red Rover to decide who works on which project? Will you vote on who gets a raise this year?

Look, there’s a place for getting feedback from people on your team who aren’t your manager. But you do that individually and with some dignity, and it sure as hell doesn’t replace feedback from your manager.

Something is wrong with your manager.

I hope you and your coworkers will tell her that you’re not at all okay with this plan, and that you want to handle feedback like normal professionals, meaning in private, as part of a discussion with her, and not while standing in a line. (Or maybe you can tell her that you’ve taken another vote and she’s out.)

This is absurd.

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT

    This might actually get my vote for most bizarre AAM letter ever!

    Seriously, WTF?

    I see this going in one of two ways. Either a crazy childish fight, or no one saying anything at all because how is that not hella awkward?

    1. Julie

      Everyone should only give positive feedback and appreciation of each other. That’s still feedback, and it’s really the only type of public feedback that would be appropriate, in my opinion.

      1. Trilian

        “You’re cool.”
        “You’re cool too. Let’s go work.”

        OR

        *stare*
        *stare*
        “You blinked first.”
        “Did not.”
        “Did so.”
        “Did not.”
        “Did so.”
        Continue until team leaders give up in frustration and let employees get on with their jobs.

          1. So Very Anonymous

            Now I sorta want my workplace to do this, so that I can orchestrate the Hokey Pokey.

            Job gods: I’m kidding. Really. Please don’t give this idea to our coordinators.

  2. CollegeAdmin

    Results of the next survey: “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”

    But seriously – the OP said that the “team leaders” announced this, which implies that MORE THAN ONE PERSON said, “Hey, you know what’s a great idea? A feedback receiving line!” Some people just need a healthy dose of sense.

    1. Shelley

      To be fair, it could be that the powers on high decided this, and as the case with team leads and all middle management, even if you disagree with them you have to present it to your underlings. United front and disagree in private, and all that.

      1. CollegeAdmin

        True. If the team leads and middle management actually received this from higher-ups and personally disagree with it, then I give them major gold stars for not laughing/sighing when presenting it. Maybe they practiced in front of a mirror?

      2. GroupFeedbackOP

        OP here. Actually, team leaders are responsible for the department for the time being, because our manager found another job. We don’t know for how long the position will be vacant. This was their idea, so I guess they are doing their best to figure things out while we are sans-manager. This didn’t look good at all, though.

        1. Chinook

          So, while they are looking for a new manager, the team leaders came up with a way to ensure that they look like horrible managers? Or is this actually a version of “Office Survivor” and one person put forward this idea so that every other tema leader can look like a doofus and, when she refuses to follow through, comes across as the only competent one to TPTB?

        2. Lindsay J

          How old are these team leaders? Because this sounds like something that might happen at summer camp or something.

        3. Shelley

          In that case, I retract my meager defense of said team leads and am sending you my sympathies (and face-palms).

          This is all sorts of crazy…and a terrible way to attract GOOD managers to fill that vacancy.

    2. Elizabeth West

      I got the impression that they voted yes to feedback, and then the team leaders sprung this ridiculous method on them. I doubt anyone actually agreed to this avalanche of stupid.

      1. JMegan

        Love the term “avalanche of stupid!”

        Also, is it wrong that I think playing Red Rover to assign project work sounds like a really great idea? :)

        1. Chinook

          Red Rover sounds like fun but it would pass health & safety requirements? Jamie? Mike? Would the tall ones be required to kneel while playing so as not to garrotte the shorter people (as I actually had to do when playing this as a summer camp leader with 6 y.o.s)? Or would we be able to offer other suggestions like “Duck, Duck, Goose,” “Red Light Green Light” or “Simon Says” (which would be perfect for figureing out who can follow directions)?

            1. Windchime

              Yeah, I was thinking Dodgeball for negative feedback. Hacky-sack for good feedback. It’s all cool, man.

            1. EE

              Ooh, houses in the Muggle office!

              Ravenclaw for strategy. Slytherins for negotiating with clients and Gryffindor for negotiating with creditors and investors. Hufflepuff for thankless office work.

          1. Jamie

            Red Rover sounds like fun but it would pass health & safety requirements? Jamie?

            I’m not even allowed to run in the office or use the paper cutter thing – so I’m thinking a big no on Red Rover. Although I have always thought a nice friendly game of dodge ball is an excellent way to solve most problems.

            If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball.

            Does this feedback idea sound like a slam book for grownups to anyone else? I have to say I’d straight up refuse to participate – no way do I contribute to this.

            1. the gold digger

              Slam book was the first thing I thought of.

              And slam book is the review process we had when I was a Peace Corps volunteer – not from the PC but from the group were I worked (a women’s co-op).

              We all sat in a circle and one by one, everyone said what she didn’t like about me.

              1. Ruffingit

                Well that just sounds like loads of fun. Seriously, why do people think public shaming works? It does not. It only creates a ton more issues when the target of the shaming is so infuriated that their offending behavior worsens OR they are so embarrassed that their job suffers and/or they leave the company entirely.

                It’s just not the way to go at all, ever. I don’t know why people insist on doing this.

      2. GroupFeedbackOP

        Sadly, it’s both. The survey wanted to know if we wanted feedback and in another question about how we wanted that feedback. The most voted option was “one on one”.

        When they anounced the results, they also said they wanted to implement this “line and group feedback”. It was taken as “accepted” because most people didn’t complain or say anything against it. When they explained the feedback-dynamic was the time for people to speak up, yet they didn’t! That was what made me think maybe I was overreacting to this.

        1. KJ

          Sounds like a messed version of a 360 feedback, which, when implemented properly, can be extremely helpful.

        2. Anonymous

          Maybe everyone thinks that this is what is meant by ‘one on one’ feedback. I can see one of my kids thinking that.

        3. Vicki

          ” most people didn’t complain or say anything against it.”

          Most people were stunned into silence and the actual meaning of what was said didn’t come to mind until later.

  3. Loose Seal

    I would start looking around for the hidden cameras because surely you are on a reality show.

    1. Jessica

      “The gaming company Valve also boasts of being bossless and has gotten a lot of attention for it. But Jeri Ellsworth, a former programmer at Valve Corp., said her time there “felt a lot like high school.”

      I can imagine. Sounds like a nightmare popularity contest.

      1. Chinook

        “said her time there “felt a lot like high school.””

        The only time I want to work in a place that feels like high school is when I am the teacher and I have the authority to remove disruptive individuals from my roon.

      2. Vicki

        I worked for a Fortune 500 company where the managers in the department all got together in a room and decided promotions and raises of all non-managers. So if I reported to X, X had to try to defend a raise for me in front of all of the managers (who also were defending raises for their people.Bleah).

        From the point of view of the employees, that was a popularity contest as well.

        It dosen’t require a “bossless” company to not know how to do things the right way.

        1. tcookson

          That sounds like the small company I used to work for, where whichever manager could have the scariest and most sustained hissy fit would prevail with the Big Boss and get their way for the people in their department. Every decision was a behind-doors yelling contest.

        2. Jazzy Red

          It sounds like they’re trying to prevent a manager from giving raises to employees who don’t deserve them, like the receptionist a few weeks ago who was incompetent but they were afraid to fire her because of her lawless family.

          However, you’re absolutely right in that it turns into a popularity contest among the managers.

          1. Jamie

            I think it’s only a popularity contest if tptb allow that to happen…but having to make a case for your share of the raise bucket for your department and defend that against other departments…I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

            If you have 100K in the raise bucket and 5 departments you could just give every manager 20K to divide as they see fit.

            But what if department A has been kicking all kinds of ass and have people who really deserve increases, but departments C and D don’t have enough people warranting 20k worth of increases? That’s where you make the case, so those who earned the merit raises are rewarded and not being passed over because the other departments have extra to give undeserved raises to others.

            And a good manager will be able to make a compelling argument while fighting for their people…another reason you really want to work for a good manager.

        3. Silent

          Ooooh are you near my office?

          Only I work for boss Y. Boss Y is a wimpy boss and doesn’t give review ratings over 3.5 out of 5 because then she would have to justify the rating to the group of managers.

  4. Yup

    My head explodes at the stupidity. Feedback is meant to be a thoughtful conversation between two people (or within a small group) to discuss and understand performance. HOW THE FORK are people supposed to meaningfully discuss anything, especially anything tricky or difficult, in an everyone-together mashup of line dancing and speed dating?? I think I just had a rage blackout.

    OP, you totally have my sympathies. It sounds like someone upstairs has mistaken “feedback” for “saying stuff to people at random.” I’m sure that less aggravated and more thoughtful commenters here can recommend books, websites, and other phrasing to help your manager understand what proper, useful feedback is. (I may come back and offer more helpful suggestions when my blood pressure decreases.)

    1. GroupFeedbackOP

      Exactly! I’m relatively new here, so I have yet to work with most of the people in the department. What am I supossed to do when I have to give feedback to a random person? “I like your tie color, I guess.”?

      And books/articles about one-to-one feedback would be a great! Hope they can help them make an informed decision about how and when give feedback.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I would TOTALLY do the tie thing. In fact, everybody should, just to show how stupid it is. :)

        1. PJ

          I was gonna suggest calling in sick on that day, but I might come in just to see how the tie thing works out.

      2. Yup

        Okay, so I went at looked at pictures of puppies on the Internet for a while and I’ve calmed down a bit. Here are some potential “this how to do feedback, you loon” resources for your team leaders:

        NYT article that discusses how people need different kinds of feedback depending on their level of expertise, plus links to research studies and books:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/06/your-money/how-to-give-effective-feedback-both-positive-and-negative.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

        Two book recommendations about managing (in general) that include lots of discussions about communication, roles, and performance:
        “First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman
        “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills” by Peggy Klaus

        Two companies that are big in the performance evaluation/workplace communication services are VitalSmarts and KornFerry. They’re very corporate clone-y but they do offer free info/research/resources on their websites.

        Good luck with all this. I’d be a sputtering mess of rage if made to do something so infuriating, but you seem very together and pragmatic about it. So I’m sure you’ll cope well with however it goes. :)

  5. Anonymous

    If your team leaders have the bad sense to create this horrendous task, I imagine they’ll take your (justified! reasonable!) criticism very personally. I’d attack this twofold- approach your manager, and gently suggest they try a more professional approach. If that doesn’t work, I’m not really sure what else to try. Even if you were to convince your coworkers to not participate (Giving empty feedback like “You do work” or something), I imagine the team leaders would take part and perpetuate a really terrible atmosphere.

    Best of luck, OP. I really hope this is shut down swiftly.

    1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

      I bet the “team leads” and manager are exempt from this little game. They throw you in the bullpen and sit back and watch.

      1. GroupFeedbackOP

        Not really, the way they explained it, you could end up facing a team leader in the line. And have to give and receive feedback from them.

        1. Chinook

          If I got the team lead in this scenario, I would be tempted to commit career hari kari by giving them feedback about this style of feedback.

  6. Meg

    WTF forever on this. Have you tried getting other coworkers together and telling the manager as a group that this is completely absurd and you don’t want to do it? You can’t be the only one who has issues with this. And since she apparently loves taking surveys so much, maybe she’ll listen to you when you come to her.

  7. Laura

    OMG. Just, OMG.

    It sounds like the person who came up with this idea does speed dating and decided to apply the same principles to providing/receiving feedback. That is truly horrifying. I would flat-out refuse to participate, and if my manager threatened to write me up, so be it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t mind being written up in that scenario, because then I’d have a reason to tell HR what was going on. Even though it’s not technically illegal, it’s a horrible idea and surely any halfway decent HR department would put the kibosh on it.

  8. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise

    Her manager probably doesn’t know how to effectively administer feedback so this is her way of “trying to get the job done.”

    What if someone has a grudge and provides unsubstantiated feedback just to throw someone under the bus? What if office buds give glowing feedback to each other? Where is HR in all of this? Are you looking for another job? Does this replace annual reviews?

    Hopefully you all will be able to convince them that this is a no go.

  9. Catherine

    I want to say this has to be a joke, but apparently not. Ugh. So sorry, OP. In practical terms, +1 to everything that AAM said. If this is typical of your team’s management style, you will want to tread carefully and diplomatically. Starting a coup with other workers could create a nasty and negative workspace for you. If I were in your shoes, I would try to pair up with someone I didn’t work closely with, and use the feedback time to get to know them and their job. Might make the situation less awkward (if you can’t get your manager to dismiss the idea) and give you insight into other areas of your department.

    1. Chinook

      I suspect this is not a troll because I once worked in an office where they wanted to lift the team spirit. The first “game” was to have us pick a partner and, with one of us blindfolded, have the other person guide us (either with words or by the hand) around an onstacle course. It was very hard for me to explain to my manager, who I respected deeply, that I wouldn’t trust her to do this to me and, more importantly, it is not like there is a need to have this type of trust in the job and no one should have to do it. She thought I was overreacting but I pointed out that the enxt activity would probably be a trust fall. Unfortunately, I was right and even TPTB realized it had gone too far.

      BTW, did you know that, if you google “team building activities” these 2 activities top the list?

  10. Tina

    I don’t have the words to express just how horrified I’d be in that situation. Good luck with that!

  11. Jazzy Red

    I would hide in the ladies’ room until this whole thing is over. Like I used to do when I worked at the home office of the world’s largest retailer, and we had to do the company cheer at the beginning of every meeting. For some reason, I was always late…

    1. Elizabeth West

      Ugh, I used to work for a nonprofit that had a company cheer. I always felt like a total idiot doing it, so I would just mouth the words.

      1. Bean

        I can’t even sing happy birthday without feeling like an idiot. I get extremely self conscious and pretend I’m singing when I’m really not.

  12. Amanda H

    “It sounds like some sort of catty teenage girl ritual where you all tell each other what you don’t like about each other and then there’s crying and yelling.”
    PERFECT description, Alison!

    Absolutely discuss this with your boss, OP. Unfortunately, my advice on how to do so is currently inhibited, and all I can think of is a series of inarticulate fragments: But– I can’t even– Do you understand–
    And so on.

  13. clobbered

    > Or get the team together and every member would get a “group feedback.”

    Yes. Get every member to turn around to the team lead and give them “group feedback” on how much this sucks.

      1. Anon Accountant

        WTF???? I can’t believe anyone thought this approach is a good idea. This sounds like a junior high student is the acting manager. What’s next- a survey to see who should be crowned homecoming queen?

        Wow.

      2. Nikki T

        That might change, after one session. Unless everybody is looking forward to being mean to everybody..but some people might still like it, even after all the tears..

        1. Anon Accountant

          That’s more like it. I’d venture to guess that others didn’t feel comfortable speaking up and voicing any dissent.

  14. Sascha

    Why doesn’t the manager want to give feedback – well, in my experience, one of my former managers didn’t want to give feedback or do performance reviews, because then we might use that feedback to make a case for a raise or promotion. It was very taboo at the company I used to work for; actually no one in the entire company did performance reviews, because the CEO wanted to keep the decision to give raises and promotions all to himself. It was company-wide policy not to do them. The manager wouldn’t do informal reviews either because of the same reason.

  15. EA

    Not going to lie, playing Red Rover to decide who works on which project actually sounds kinda fun.

    1. Pussyfooter

      Does anyone remember “bacon”? Wasn’t that the one with 2 lines like red rover, but one player from each had to run and grab the chalk board eraser (or whatever) before the other? You guys are giving me nursery school flashbacks!

  16. fposte

    If I were forced into doing such a bizarre thing, I might tacitly try to turn this into a team morale exercise, and tell everybody something that you think they’ve done well at or that you like about them. Maybe it’ll catch on and everybody will at least finish feeling better rather than annoyed at having wasted all that time.

    1. Blue

      This reminds me of a summer program from when I was in high school – we felt our teachers were being unnecessarily critical, so we got together on our own and agreed to circumvent it by saying something positive every time one of them said something negative (which was always). They did actually notice after a while and then we had a useful discussion, which I don’t think have happened if we’d just said “please stop being so critical”.

    2. Ms Enthusiasm

      I was thinking the same thing about only positive feedback. Perhaps the team leads are just inexperienced and/or naive and think it will only be good things said and it will turn into a positive experience for everyone.

  17. AMG

    Alison should start a new category called ‘Things that can be printed out and left quietly on someone’s chair’. This could go into that category–make extra copies for HR!

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Me too. Here’s a case where the passive aggressive anonymous printout is appropriate. Put a copy on everyone’s chair (don’t forget your own!) so that team leads and team members realize that normal people think this is horrifying and counter-productive and juvenile.

  18. April

    I really, really want to participate in this. I’ll say the same nonsense phrase anytime the conversation gets to me. Saying “banana soup” in a monotone would be just as effective as this scenario, but at least it would be funny.

    1. Chinook

      The key to “banana soup,” though, is to make sure your repeat it with feeling when someone questions what you mean. The point is to make it obvious with the tone that the other person should know exactly what you are talking about without any explanation. Adding a an eye roll and a deep sigh before uttering it for the 6th time should do the trick.

  19. GroupFeedbackOP

    After reading Alison’s response I think I realize something. My manager quit quickly after they sent the survey. I wanna believe she wasn’t 100% behind this, because surveys have continued and the people in charge while higher ups hire a new manager are our team leaders.

    After the survey, we had a department meeting and only two people complained about this kind of feedback. They haven’t implemented a group feedback session yet, and I really hope they don’t. I’ll send Alison a drama-filled update if they do!

        1. Felicia

          Red Rover was banned at my elementary school because too many kids got hurt. This seems to be about the equivalent of playing Red Rover:)

          1. Chinook

            Felicia, my heart breaks for you. Did they all ban “duck, duck, goose” because only the popular kids would get “goosed”? (which sounds wrong from an adult perspective but makes perfect sense in the game).

            I shouldn’t be surprised, though. My dad had to physically show his grandsons how to play fox and geese in the snow this winter and how to float a stick down the gutter in the run-off. These 2 boys (one 12 and one 5) just thought my dad was crazy.

          2. Jim

            In the UK we call the game British Bulldog and it been banned in schools for years after to many broken boned and some missing teeth.

            1. Chinook

              But if a game doesn’t have the risk of someone breaking something, how can it be called fun? *snark*

            2. Jen in RO

              I find it fascinating how the same game is played by kids across the world. It’s called ‘Country, country, we want soldiers’ in Romania… and we must not have strong kids, because I’ve never heard of someone get hurt playing it!

            3. CathVWXYNot?

              At my school (North Yorkshire, mid-1980s) we had Red Rover AND British Bulldog, as two separate games. RR was two lines of people facing each other holding hands and individuals taking it in turns to try and break the other line, and BB was two groups of people with individuals taking it in turns to try to run from one end of the yard to the other with someone in the middle trying to catch them / knock them over. RR got banned, but BB didn’t.

          3. Elizabeth

            You haven’t lived until you’ve played Red Rover with one team wrapped around a tree when the other team sent a kid running at them.

            Yeah, we were not nice kids.

            1. Felicia

              I heard it got banned at many elementary schools in the area. I was one of those non athletic kids that sucked at red rover and hated it, so I didn’t mind that it was banned. I was in third grade when it was banned so I did get to play it. The bruises and blood were considered ok, but it got banned at my school after some kid broke their arm.

          4. Lora

            Whaaat? At my elementary school they considered it akin to kiddie football practice, therefore it was a holy and sacred pastime that all children must try at least once to experience the pain of Might Makes Right. I was a very tiny Lora AND the youngest in the class…

    1. JMegan

      I’m actually curious – what are they proposing as the benefits to this method? All of us here can see the negatives (crying in the office is never a good thing!), but somebody, somewhere in that brain trust must genuinely think this is a good idea.

      Maybe if you get them to articulate that part, you’ll be able to understand where they’re coming from, and then you can propose alternate activities that accomplish the same goal. It may not work, of course, and there may still be a lot of people staying home with mysterious headaches on Group Feedback Day, but it might be worth a try!

    1. Anon Accountant

      This is awful, but I’d be interested to observe it too. It sure would be a train wreck.

      1. GroupFeedbackOP

        Maybe I can make a Twitch account and stream this live? I could retire early if drama draws enough subscriptors.

  20. S.A.

    I can ONLY imagine that this works if 1) everyone who does it is on the same authority level- ie: your boss isn’t the one standing across from you giving you shit feedback; 2) there’s a LARGE group dynamic- you couldn’t have this work if there were only two people in one office doing similar work; and 3) if your bosses didn’t take anything that was said or any fisticuffs that resulted into consideration come review time. If you did it PURELY in a large group (say, 10 or more employees all the same level, working in the same department, doing similar things) and it’s ONLY purpose was to make sure that people’s individual quirks/bad habits got worked on…it’d still be a hot mess…but if everyone went into it with a good frame of mind, you might work some kinks out without the need for a lot of little petty infighting.

    Also, too, maybe it’s a reverse psychology trick- the bosses think it’s a good idea because people will be more apt to be nice to each other/less harsh if everyone else is around/can hear them.

      1. S.A.

        Is your work environment already a clusterfuck? Could this be the team leaders’ way of getting everyone to button up and fly right without having to do a lot of individual reviews? In light of the fact that you said your manager quit and these are your team leaders, maybe they don’t have as much authority to do reviews/discipline people as needed and this is more of a team building exercise?

        This reminded me of 8th grade when we had to write anonymous NICE things on the backs of our classmates (on paper pinned to us). THAT sort of line/feedback might be awesome- it might force people who wouldn’t otherwise say nice things to each other to come up with something and boost morale. (It actually did work in 8th grade.)

        1. GroupFeedbackOP

          This might be a surprise, but even without a manager we have been able to get work done smoothly. We have reached our goals and we haven’t had any troubles getting things done before deadlines. Team leaders got extra work, because they have to cover our manager’s tasks while they hire a new one.

          So one might say it’s not a horrible work environment. I think this bad decision is an isolated case and isn’t a reflection of the whole work dynamic.

  21. edj3

    Keep in mind that you can tell someone something positive and it’s still feedback. So there’s your out.

    1. Windchime

      Exactly. There is no way I would give anyone anything other than positive feedback in such a setting. I can’t see any positive outcome from criticizing a teammate in front of 20 people. How horrible.

  22. NMJ

    This sounds crazily similar to a former job I had. My boss came back from a “Team Building” conference and introduced the “Gratitude Rock” (yes, a real rock). Each week one member of the team had to present the rock to another member of our team and send a company-wide email explaining why they chose that person and what they were grateful for. It turned into a Jr. High type popularity nightmare where people’s feelings were hurt when they weren’t chosen. This was in addition to our “Chocolate Teapot Survivor” Saturday, wherein we were all required to attend an all-day event that included obstacle courses, scavenger hunts, trust challenges, etc… Not even a little bit fun.

  23. Anonicorn

    This sounds exactly like Senn Delaney culture-shaping/leadership garbage.

    I was forced through a two-day session of it, and the face-to-face group feedback was part of it.

    1. anonthistime

      Our organization is still in the throes of Senn Delaney. You have my heartfelt condolences.

  24. RedStateBlues

    Wow…this is yet another situation that I’ve read on this blog that I’ve thought, “This MUST be some sort of occupational psychology experiment. Surely nobody really thinks this is a good idea”.

  25. Rich

    This is such a colossally terrible idea, that I am at a loss to find an appropriate description for it. Feedback needs to be relevant, timely, and respectful; this idea is going to create such a hostile working environment that it isn’t even funny to think about.

    One thing you all could do, though: coordinate, and when you’re in your group/lineup, you offer the exact same feedback that “this idea is terrible and I will not participate in it,” or “whoever thought of this needs to be fired.” While that sounds absurd and rude, group solidarity would likely be the best way to make the leadership lead properly (especially when the public feedback is suddenly towards them).

  26. Lia

    My last job was at a place that did this, so yes, it’s a real thing. Our manager was not very well-liked by the staff and she tried a bunch of “team-building” activities. The feedback exercise was actually done in a circle, and was restricted to positive feedback only. That one was actually really nice, even if I had to come up with a vague “um, you’re always…prompt” when asked to come up with something nice about the loathsome guy in our department.

    We also did “speed networking”, which was just DUMB. We’d all worked together for at least 2 years, so it wasn’t useful at all.

    The worst though was the “anonymous survey (which was sent to the area secretary, what the heck) ranking your coworkers on a 1-5 scale on a bunch of pretty random things”. That was intended to be the basis for raises and promotions. The scores were supposedly private but leaked in about 2 minutes. That was bushels of fun…especially when the scores were ignored for the people the boss wanted to give raises to anyways.

    1. Jazzy Red

      The only team building exercise I’ve ever liked was happy hour at the Italian restaurant down the street.

  27. S3

    A few years ago, my company experimented with a version of the 360 reviews where you were required to submit two anonymous peer reviews in lieu of submitting an annual self-evaluation. The only rule was that you couldn’t review someone in your direct chain of command (ie – your supervisor or direct reports). The way it was presented by HR, it made us feel that the reviews should be critical & negative.

    Of course, some people were salivating at the opportunity to let the world know how horrible “Bob” in accounting was or whatever.

    Ultimately, I decided to write positive reviews about the two employees at the company who had spent the most time training me and who were in my mind the company’s best employees.

    In the end, I’m not sure if any of the peer feedback made it to any of the recipients. And the company never did this again.

    I feel like corporations are always trying to come up with zany ways to get coworkers to connect. And what is happening at your office is a million times more nuts than the peer reviews.

    The best way I can be genuine with people is to find a way to be really nice to them. That’s why I like the idea of just commenting on their tie or finding some positive common ground to connect on.

  28. Nodumbunny

    I agree that this is a terrible idea, but it’s not unfamiliar. My husband is a regional executive for a large national corporation and they have to do this sort of thing all the time but only amongst their peers – so just executive to executive, not direct report to supervisor. It seems to be excruciating, but fairly effective. It’s both positive and negative feedback – at least they all know where they stand with each other.

    1. Brton3

      I mean, god forbid they learn where they stand with each other by having regular conversations and daily interactions like professional adults, in which they discuss their current projects and goals and try to work out any problems or potential issues in an ongoing fashion.

  29. khilde

    Do you think they got confused and can’t distinguish between teambuilding and giving performance feedback? That’s immediately where my mind went: I have seen in my classes how some {bad} managers confuse some of these concepts. I could see someone thinking that “getting feedback” is this silly thing they are going to make you do. Their goal in the feedback game is to disperse some of the warm fuzzy stuff. But as we all know here and what most of us assumed is “getting feedback” generally means individual performance feedback. I dunno….it could be a stretch but something about your description of the situatoin made me wonder if that term “giving feedback” meant different things to different people on that survey.

  30. A Teacher

    All you need is a slam book like in Mean Girls and this would be perfect. Seriously, who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? I read it to my seventh hour careers class and ALL of the junior and senior high school students were like WTF and wanted all of you to know that this is “like a great way to be singled out,” “to have a target put on your back,” and is just “damn stupid” in the opinion of one of the football players. All from the mouths of babes.

    1. Chinook

      A Teacher, do you read out all the AAM articles to your students or just the ones that make you react verbally? I could so see using a “best of AAM” as fodder for a careers class.

      1. A Teacher

        no, not all. I use some of the ‘questions’ as scenarios when I talk about interpersonal dynamics and workplace dynamics among other things. We do a unit on workplace bullying as well.

        I will say I created a collaborative worksheet and will be using it with my 9-10th grade careers class where they read a question/scenario alone and write their thoughts and then the work with a group to come up with a collaborative response. We are trying that in the next week. There are a total of 5 questions I’ve already chosen and printed out for 5 different groups. I will tell them what AAM gave as advice after the fact–so they can compare and contrast responses.

      2. YoTeach

        I teach a community college class where one of our modules is careers with another being critical thinking. I will be using AAM letters when we get to both of those modules.

    2. Kelly L.

      Slam books! Did they ever really exist?They figured in a whole slew of 80s and 90s novels I read as a preteen, but darned if I ever actually saw one.

      1. Artemesia

        oh yes — I remember them in the late 50s. After all before facebook and other internet bullying options, there had to be a way to torment the not so cool kids. Occasionally there would be a scandal and they would be confiscated and the principal would announce that such activity was banned, but then it would bubble up again. These things were really heinous but at least unlike the internet, you had to actually get your hands on the book and so they were a little less damaging than the high tech torment we now enable for teens.

    3. Cassie

      I was going to suggest a slam book too! Not that I have actually seen one, but I remember reading about it in those Sweet Valley High books.

  31. Brton3

    Stuff like this (and so many other wacky HR-inspired ideas) makes me wonder if some organizations are less invested in pursuing a common mission and achieving success, and more interesting in just “running the office” as though it’s an idling car that doesn’t actually have to travel anywhere.

  32. Ruffingit

    So group line feedback, stack ranking, general public shaming of employees in team meetings…it’s a great time to be in the working world! :\

  33. Abradee

    In addition to the Mean Girls comparisons, this also kind of reminds of being back in school when, after a pop quiz, the teacher would have you trade your quiz with the student next to you. The teacher would then go over the answers out loud while everyone graded each other’s work. I always found this practice so demeaning.

    Putting myself in the OP’s shoes, I’m just having flashbacks of the sinking feeling I would get when instructed to trade quizzes with the person next to me. Even if I had done well (which didn’t always happen as I had some pretty bad test-taking anxiety), I always felt it was the teacher’s job to assess my work, and my right to have a little privacy about my grades. Just like it’s a manager’s (or team leader’s) job to give you feedback on your performance–privately. To do otherwise is completely undignified.

    Granted, as Alison mentioned there are times when getting feedback from your team members is constructive, but this is not that. I don’t know what this is. This is just…stupid.

    1. CathVWXYNot?

      The test-swapping thing didn’t bother me too much because I always sat next to a friend who I knew wouldn’t bully me for getting good grades (yay, British school system!). However, we had one teacher who did something that IMO was much, much worse: she’d organise all the tests she’d marked in order of score, and hand them back to the class in order, from lowest to highest, so everyone in the room saw exactly where everyone else in the room fell on the scale. GAAH.

    2. A Teacher

      Yeah, that violates FERPA too so I don’t do that and I know many of my co-workers don’t either. Plus it is just a bad idea.

    3. Jazzy Red

      Abradee, this is bringing back horrible memories about my 8th grade class in Catholic school. Every week, the nun had us rearrange our desks according to how many 100% tests/quizzes we had during that week. I was a B student, so I didn’t have many 100s, and it was humiliating in the extreme. especially when she said to one of the “better” students who didn’t have a great week, “look at where you are this week – sitting by Jazzy Red”. I hope that woman is burning in hell.

      1. Abradee

        I went to Catholic school as well! I swear, as soon as they were no longer allowed to hit kids like they did in my parents’ Catholic school days, the nuns moved on to public humilation as their new form a punishment.

  34. Brian

    Who Am I anyway
    Am I my resume
    That is a picture of a person I don’t know
    What does he want from me
    What should I try to be
    So many faces all around and here we go
    I need this job
    Oh god I need this… wait.
    This is insane.
    I quit.

  35. Cassie

    We used to do this in ballet class once in a while (also sometimes in rehearsals). Most of the students (teens) wouldn’t have anything to say about anyone else – they were all friends and didn’t want to hurt each other. Even when there were people who didn’t like each other, they certainly weren’t going to say anything in front of everyone else. That’s not the way teen girls behave – the usual MO is to just exclude someone until that person leaves the studio.

    The other problem was that the girls weren’t used to evaluating other dancers critically. All they notice is how many turns this person does or how high that person gets their leg. They don’t notice the details. It’s a skill that they should really develop, though, because it would help improve their own dancing.

    Anyway, I would expect group feedback in a workplace to be equally pointless. There might be some people who can evaluate others critically (but constructively), but other people might just be oblivious. Or they’ll confuse personality (like whether a person says hi each morning) with performance.

    1. Jessa

      Yes, but this kind of evaluation has to be TAUGHT first. Same with gymnastics or any other body movement skill where position is important (skateboarding tricks, snowboard etc.) You can’t just line up a bunch of dance students and say tell me what that dancer is doing. You have to model it for them. A LOT. First.

      1. Jessa

        Sorry, hit enter before I was done.

        We were taught how to do that by watching video. We would be sat in front of video of competitions or other groups. We weren’t ever taught how to do it at first on each other. We were also taught how to do it and not be NASTY about it.

      2. Rana

        That’s true for all sorts of things. When I was teaching writing workshops, we spent the first few weeks getting the students to understand what they should be aiming for in their comments on each others’ work. “I like it” and “It flows smoothly” and “I disagree with your opinion” are largely useless comments. “The first paragraph does a good job setting out your thesis,” “You use your opening sentences effectively to link the paragraphs together,” and “You’re alienating the reader by jumping to that conclusion right away without sharing your evidence and reasoning first” are much more helpful.

        1. LJL

          Precisely. I’ve done peer review when teaching composition. Students need to be taught how to do that. They need precise instructions, practice, and a clear rubric. Giving feedback on performance should be taught in the same way.

  36. Not So NewReader

    OP, I would start asking questions.
    What is the goal here? What do the team leads hope to find?
    How much time will be allotted to each person?
    Will the number of comments be limited?
    Twenty people that is ten pairs. This will take a bit of time. Who will be tending the “store” (manning the phones or whatever) while this “exercise” is going on?
    What are the rules/guidelines? What is considered inappropriate?
    Is there an overseer that disqualifies/cuts off damaging remarks?
    What is expected of the new people who do not know everyone yet?
    How will the feedback impact reviews/raises/etc?

    OP, I know there have been times where I have appeared to my coworkers as being okay with some pile of stupid at work. Behind close doors I have gone in and told the boss “This is a bad idea and here is why.” So, while others were wringing their hands in despair, I already knew I had done my best to put the kibosh on the stupid idea. It could be that some of your coworkers have said something privately and will never tell you. I never felt comfortable talking to other people about how I talked the boss out of a bad idea. It just did not seem right. Maybe some of your coworkers operate the same way.

    Look around for someone who seems really level-headed. Ask them what they think of this whole drill. This should be someone who has been there for a while, but not necessarily the most senior person.

  37. Lora

    I think you guys should have a serious team-building exercise directly before this event, involving vodka.

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