What Anonymous Feedback Will (and Won’t) Tell You

A survey evaluating a team’s performance can be a powerful tool for making that team more effective. And the first message that consultants and HR professionals often communicate on these surveys is: “To ensure that the team gets the best data and feels protected, we will make sure responses are confidential.” The widespread assumption is that if team members know their answers are confidential, they will respond honestly. But if you ask for confidential feedback, it might create the very results you are trying to avoid.

If team members are reluctant to have their names associated with their responses, then you’ve already identified what is probably the most significant problem in your team — lack of trust. Leaders routinely insist that team members be accountable as a team, so the logic follows that they should also be accountable for giving good, critical feedback. But enabling respondents to comment without being linked to their responses actually catalyzes the situation the survey is designed to overcome: It seeks to create increased accountability using a process that lacks transparency and precludes accountability.

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