This is a resource file which supports the regular public program "areol" (action research and evaluation on line) offered twice a year beginning in mid-February and mid-July. For details email Bob Dick firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
... in which a hypothetical game of darts is used to raise some issues about the quality of feedback in much of our working lives (and elsewhere) 1
Imagine the following scenario ...
You have just had your first encounter with darts. A group of people are playing it, with enthusiasm, in your local hotel. Noticing your interest, they ask if you would like to join in.
"I'd like to," you say, "But I don't know the game."
They offer to teach you.
One of them places a blindfold over your eyes. You feel yourself turned round two or three times and briefly held facing a particular direction. You presume that is where the dart board is. Someone places three darts into your hand.
"Here, have a go."
You throw the three darts in what you hope is the right direction. You think you hear a few laughs. It's hard to tell -- the pub is a noisy place.
Another three darts are placed in your hand. You try again.
Right now, how are you feeling? If you were prepared to say what you feel like saying, what would it be?
...and then another three. ... and another three.
"How am I going?" you ask.
"Not bad for a beginner", you are told. "Two actually hit the board, for a score of 23. All but three of the rest hit the correct wall."
Absurd? Of course. At the very least you would expect...
What would you expect? If you are going to learn darts effectively, what are the minimum conditions? And what else could be done, beyond these minimum conditions, to make it an effective and enjoyable experience?
I think that at the very least you would expect to be given enough information about the essential rules to be able to get started. I imagine you would be astonished if someone put a blindfold on you.
Playing darts normally, you begin to get feedback from the moment every dart leaves your hand. You soon learn which actions on your part lead to success, and which do not. If you are able to watch some good players and model your action on them, so much the better. A little bit of supportive coaching doesn't go astray, either.
And yet, which of the two conditions most resembles the feedback you are given in your job? In your studies? Elsewhere? Do you get immediate, ongoing, accurate, direct, unfiltered, unthreatening feedback? Or is your work like learning darts blindfolded?
Think of the work of you and your team. Which of the two conditions _does_ your job most closely resemble? Do you get constant, immediate and accurate feedback which comes directly to you, uninterpreted by others? Or do you get occasional and vague feedback in very general terms, selectively interpreted by someone else?
Probably somewhere between those extremes.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the work of you and your team? Assume that "1" means "like learning darts blindfolded; "10" means "immediate, ongoing, accurate, direct, unfiltered, unthreatening feedback."
The coaching makes an important difference. We now accept in most fields of sport that a sportsperson needs a coach. We are poor observers of our own behaviour, and a coach can provide a valuable outside perspective.
We also know that most coaches regard themselves as partly responsible for the motivation of the sportspeople they are coaching. But motivation isn't something other people do to us. Motivation, for better or worse, arises from the needs which we seek to satisfy. Feedback can help us become better informed about how we might satisfy our needs -- about the results that are worth pursuing, and what we can do to pursue them successfully.
In other words, feedback can raise the goals which we set for ourselves. Positive feedback works best, because negative feedback can have the same depressing effect on goals as no feedback. 2
We know all this, of course, from our own experience and understanding. No-one would dream of learning darts blindfolded.
Despite that, we regularly blindfold the people we supervise at work and elsewhere. We regularly tolerate being blindfolded by our superiors and those in authority.
If we could only use at work the experience we display in some other settings, we could make work and life more satisfying and more enjoyable.
- This document is based on part of a workshop on individual performance planning, written for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1990.
- There is evidence that positive feedback encourages people to set higher goals. Both negative feedback and no feedback depress goal setting. For example see Latham, G.P. (1986), Job performance and appraisal. In C.L. Cooper and I.T. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organisational psychology. New York: Wiley.
Copyright (c) Bob Dick 1995-2000. This document may be copied if it is not included in documents sold at a profit, and this and the following notice are included.
This document can be cited as follows:
Dick, B. (1997) Darts [On line]. Available at
Maintained by Bob Dick; this version 1.07w last revised 20000102
A text version is available at URL ftp://ftp.scu.edu.au/www/arr/darts.txt