Continuous Peer-to-Peer Feedback is the Super Power You Need Now

Make feedback a winning habit on your team.

Written By

Picture of Lauren Humphrey

Lauren Humphrey

Co-founder of Tandem

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Many companies have shifted from hierarchical team structures with single functions to dynamic “squads” that work cross-functionally. This means that traditional feedback between a manager and direct report may not be as relevant as peer-to-peer feedback. Even within a more traditional organization, peers on the same team and function may have more specific and detailed insights than a busy manager who spends their time away from the daily work. Peer-to-peer feedback is hard to get right and can often lead to anxiety, confusion, and conflict. If you are building a high performance team in today’s world, it’s important to build the right process and support for peer-to-peer feedback.

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What is peer-to-peer feedback?

Peer-to-peer feedback means feedback that one employee shares with another employee who is not in their reporting (aka management) line. Peers can be at the same level or they can be at different levels, though typically these employees would be working on tasks, projects, and deliverables commensurate with their experience and roles. Peers can be on the same team and/or function, or they can be on different teams within different parts of the business.

 Here are some examples:

  • Two Associate Customer Support representatives give one another feedback on how to improve the quality of one another’s responses to customers
  • A Staff-Level Engineer gives feedback to a Senior Engineer on their communication approach and how it led to poor outcomes in a recent sprint
  • A Sales Manager shares feedback with a Customer Onboarding Manager about the way they led an amazing Growth Team meeting that motivated Sales and Onboarding to work together
  • A Director of Customer Support gives feedback to a Senior PM on how earlier education about a recent update could have reduced customer concerns and support tickets

In some cultures, it’s customary for peers to ask for and give one another feedback any time. In other cultures, peer-to-peer happens at more formal intervals through processes like “360-degree reviews” – aka “360 reviews,” where peers solicit and share formal feedback about one another. 360 reviews are often part of performance review cycles, serving as an input to the review process. Other times 360 reviews stand alone.

Why is peer-to-peer feedback important to a high performance culture?

High performance teams win when they can tap into the best ideas and strengths on their team members, and when performance issues are identified and worked on quickly. 

Managers and leadership play an important role in setting direction and values, and ensuring the team has the resources they need to succeed. Of course, these leaders can and should share feedback to help employees learn and grow. However, they may not have the technical depth, day-to-day vantagepoint, or bandwidth to share timely, relevant feedback. 

In contrast, peers who are working alongside one another have the advantage of real-time insights and subject matter expertise that can help their teammates directly achieve better results.

Why is peer-to-peer feedback hard?

First, productive peer-to-peer feedback relies on a foundation of trust. Especially when sharing constructive feedback, an employee needs to believe that their co-worker has their best interests in mind and has the expertise and skill to help them grow.

Next, peers often have implied expectations. Unlike a direct reporting relationship, where it is the manager’s job to hire, onboard, and coach a direct report to achieve a clear set of goals and role-attributes, peers do not always have insight into the specific expectations of their peers. Conflict can arise when one peer assumes the wrong expectations of another peer. This can happen within the same team if team members have different roles and/or levels, or across teams.

Different teams can also have micro-cultures where styles of communication, decision-making, and more vary. This means that the expectations of one employee may be different to what is expected of another, making feedback land off-the-mark. 

360 feedback can also be a component of performance reviews which may affect compensation and promotions. Peers may be afraid that their honest feedback may negatively impact their teammates in a formal review. This can lead to padded or excluded feedback. 

Finally, without clear peer-to-peer feedback norms, peer feedback can accumulate and eventuate in conflict. This creates a vicious cycle of tension between peers and teams, where sharing peer feedback is associated with frustration.

What are things you can do to promote peer-to-peer feedback?

Set organization-wide expectations with clear values and attributes: Define and communicate values and attributes that are important for everyone in your company to follow. This sets explicit expectations around the most important ways of working in your organization and enables peers to share relevant feedback. Company values and attributes also support a strong foundation of trust because candidates and employees know what they can expect from their interactions with your team. 

Encourage peers to invest in their relationships: ask your employees to complete a Stakeholder Map. This tool helps them identify their key relationships, articulate shared goals, and set clear expectations. By completing this map, your employees set a strong foundation for sharing feedback with one another. At a minimum, it’s important for your leadership team and managers to do this work.

Build feedback role models: it’s important for leadership to model healthy, productive peer-to-peer feedback. Agree on norms within your leadership team – when and how peers will share feedback with one another. Avoid venting about other teams or sharing feedback for leaders indirectly. Share positive examples of how peer-to-peer feedback accelerated business progress.

Make it clear how peer to peer feedback is or isn’t included in formal review processes: If peer to peer feedback is shared to managers, ensure your company outlines how it is or isn’t incorporated into the review process. 

How we can help

Tandem raises your team’s performance. We partner with HR and leadership to build a culture of feedback with our expert-led, AI-powered tool.

We have built Tandem to foster peer-to-peer feedback. Here are some ways we help:

  1. Feedback Ritual: our tool lets you establish a weekly Feedback Ritual to motivate feedback and set clear expectations. We include ‘Ask for feedback’ in the ritual to promote peer-to-peer feedback.
  2. Ask for feedback: we make it easy to request feedback from a peer all within Slack. We also help the feedback requestor make clear, thoughtful requests to avoid “feedback spam”.
  3. Give feedback: we help peers respond with relevant feedback all within Slack. We include templates that increase the quality of the feedback and reduce the burden.
  4. Summarize peer-to-peer feedback: all feedback shared within the tool can be used to generate AI-powered draft summaries. This makes writing peer reviews easier and more relevant, unlike the vague reviews that can come out of typical peer review processes.