BL&T No. 032: Designing a Workshop to Uncover Feedback

Company Culture

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Most of us use language in a way that is fragmented. We seek to be liked, or win approval, or avoid situations that occur to us as dominating, and so we speak in a way that will bring us acceptance or recognition or safety in that moment. In another moment, with another group, we speak differently and create a lack of consistency and ultimately of power. We don't speak honestly, we hold back, we give our word and don't keep it. The result is a lack of integrity and a loss of power."

From "The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life" by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan [Book]


Last Thursday, I led our quarterly planning meeting between Barrel partners and discipline leads. Every quarter, we meet to discuss current challenges, debrief on the previous quarter, and align on future goals. This time around, we tried a new approach. Rather than focus on the day-to-day, we used the time to gather feedback for the partners.


Since kicking off leadership coaching about a month ago, the partners and discipline leads have established individual outcomes to achieve over the next several months. Each connects to a desired future for the agency. In that way, we're each responsible for our parts, but achieving the larger agency vision will take teamwork.

We believe that feedback, honesty, and accountability are the backbone of an effective team. Even if, from the outside, everyone seems to be in lockstep, progress can become a challenge when thoughts and opinions are left unsaid. Why? On the inside, people may be questioning the direction or feeling misunderstood.

The purpose of last week's workshop was to surface feedback for the partners, and in doing so, create a space to reveal the unsaid, free of judgment. As a result, the hope was for everyone to feel even just 1% more comfortable maintaining this space into the future as we work toward our outcomes.


During the weeks leading up to the workshop, I met with the discipline leads one-on-one to discuss their experience working with the partners. I thought these insights would be helpful as I planned for the workshop's agenda. I hadn't yet decided on a format and wanted to be sure we could use the two and a half hours together as productively as possible.

For the format of the workshop, I explored several options. Thanks to fellow partner Peter and my coach, Seth, for their input as I narrowed in on the final direction. In the end, the format was simple. I extracted three themes from my one-on-ones and moderated an open discussion around them. The themes were:

  • Working with Partners and challenges in giving them feedback
  • Changes in the org and how that impacts you and the team
  • Team lead roles & responsibilities: what's clear and unclear?

To kick off the meeting, we did a warm-up, shaking one arm and leg at a time, counting down from five, four, three, and so on. I borrowed this practice from our coaching team, Novus Global; it helps get everyone's energy up and blood flowing, especially first thing in the morning.

Following the warm-up, I posed two questions:

  • What are you hoping to get out of our time together?
  • Any hesitations or concerns going into our discussion?

In planning any meeting, I often spend time trying to articulate the workshop purpose clearly. While this is important, a purpose statement doesn't take the attendees' perspectives into account. The questions above were a powerful way in understanding how each person internalized the purpose and hoped to experience the meeting. It was refreshing to address these points before getting started.

Lastly, we established norms by reciting the bullets below together as a group. The intention is to remind everyone of what is "normal" in the space we're occupying together and feel safe being honest.

  • We all can be better collaborators.
  • We believe feedback is information.
  • We trade all judgment for curiosity.
  • We communicate openly and honestly.


All in all, the team's sentiment toward the workshop was positive. We ended our time together with everyone rating the meeting from 1 to 10 with feedback. Most were in the 6-8 range with two outliers: 4 and 10. I personally enjoyed seeing everyone being candid with each other and found the feedback to be helpful. For this week's newsletter, I'll focus on a few lessons from conducting the workshop.

Lesson One? Teamwork Takes Time & Practice

Going in, I had a feeling we'd run out of time, and we did. Everyone wished we could keep going. In hindsight, would I have allocated more time? I'm not sure. This workshop was the first of its kind, so we weren't sure what to expect. However, what has become clear is that we must continue to make space for these conversations. We know there's more to cover and are currently discussing follow-ups. We know this was just one rep, and teamwork takes practice.

Lesson Two? Focus on the System

Due to running out of time, several items are still left unsaid. I see this as a glass half full or empty situation. I can fixate on what we didn't cover and deem the workshop a failure or recognize all that got surfaced. I'm choosing the latter. Here's why. While we may not have covered every piece of feedback, the workshop illuminated a good deal of it. Without it, we'd be that much more unaware. That said, we can't rely on one meeting every few months to surface what's unsaid. For me, this is more fuel to concentrate on designing a system that promotes a more open culture across the team.

Lesson Three? Moderate Together

I always appreciate the role of a moderator in a discussion. If someone could follow me around all day to moderate my conversations, I'd love that. Moderators are helpful in focusing and re-focusing. Looking back on the workshop, I see an opportunity for everyone to moderate. Based on feedback, there were moments of our discussion that felt off-track or irrelevant. While having a designated workshop lead is necessary, everyone can be accountable for staying on track. One person can't know how everyone is feeling through the discussion. Much like the pre-workshop questions, moderating together would help acknowledge everyone's perspective.

Thought Starter

Where am I expecting feedback without creating space to surface it?

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