Feedback and Self-management: What Science tells us


Organizations today face increasing complexity and the need to adapt quickly – making feedback and self-management more critical than ever. With feedback and more nimble, adaptive management (and governance) systems, we can expect higher performance, more empowerment, and organizational learning.

This article summarizes the current state of knowledge regarding the benefits, requirements, and potential pitfalls revealed by research.

I. Benefits of Feedback Processes

Effective feedback processes lead to several positive outcomes for organizations:

  • Improved performance and commitment: “Researchers have found that […] a continuous quality improvement climate in teams influence[s] project performance and organizational commitment respectively through higher levels of psychological safety within the team.”  (Rathert, Ishqaidef, & May 2009)
  • Enhanced creativity: Facilitating employee voice – or constructive input regarding workplace issues – also enables greater innovation as individuals feel safe to express ideas (Miao, 2020). (See also here)

Feedback processes matter – it’s not just a nice-to-have. Investing time and attention in feedback can make the difference between success and failure.

II. Conditions for Effective Feedback

The success of feedback processes depends largely on psychological safety – the belief one can express ideas without negative consequences (Edmondson, 1999). 

Key prerequisites include:

  • Inclusive leadership: Words and deeds from leaders signaling openness to input create perceptions of safety to approach them (Nembhard & Edmondson, 2006).
  • Shared leadership: Power and influence distributed across more individuals correlates with higher psychological safety and engagement in feedback exchanges (Liu et al., 2014).
  • Trust and vulnerability: Relationships involving willingness to take interpersonal risks facilitate candor in delivering feedback (Mayer et al., 1995).

This shows that having feedback processes alone is not enough – we also need to have decentralized, inclusive leadership and culture to benefit from its positive effects.

The upward spiral

Upward spiral - Teams rating higher on dimensions of self-leadership also score better on team creativity, psychological empowerment, job satisfaction, and commitment

And that’s where things get circular: Teams rating higher on dimensions of self-leadership also score better on team creativity, psychological empowerment, job satisfaction, and commitment (Kirkman & Rosen, 1999).

And here’s another plot twist: It’s not enough to have feedback processes, decentralized governance, and psychological safety and expect perfect results for team performance. An additional ingredient is clarity and alignment. When there is not enough alignment, teams perform actually worse on information processing tasks compared to groups who are aligned around shared objectives (Pieterse et al., 2019).

So it’s the combination of shared leadership, psychological safety, feedback, and clarity that creates an upward spiral where all the different benefits compound and mutually reinforcing. 

These findings have important implications for sociocratic organizations aiming to implement effective self-management. While autonomous circles can empower teams, also require alignment around aims and domains. Sociocracy’s consent-based governance provides a mechanism for developing this shared understanding, but the goal orientation of circle members is an additional factor to consider. Teams where individual members’ motivations significantly diverge may face coordination challenges that hinder information elaboration and performance, diminishing the benefits of self-management. The same is true when aims/domains aren’t clear. 


Ultimately, the interplay of governance, leadership, and team composition determines how successfully groups can self-organize. Organizations implementing sociocracy should pay close attention to aligning motivations and building psychological safety. The aim is to optimize self-management. Further research specifically examining diverse circles within a sociocratic context could uncover additional best practices for balancing autonomy with coordination.


  • Carmeli, A. (2007). Social Capital, Psychological Safety and Learning Behaviours from Failure in Organisations, Long Range Planning, Volume 40, Issue 1, 30-44.
  • Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 350–383.
  • Kirkman, B. L., & Rosen, B. (1999). Beyond self-management: Antecedents and consequences of team empowerment. Academy of Management Journal, 42(1), 58–74. 
  • Liu, S., Hu, J., Li, Y., Wang, Z., & Lin, X. (2014). Examining the cross-level relationship between shared leadership and learning in teams: Evidence from China. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 282–295.
  • Mayer, R.C., Davis, J.H. and Schoorman, F.D. (1995), “An integrative model of organizational trust”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 709-734.
  • Nembhard, I.M, & Edmonson, A.C. (2006.) Making it safe: the effects of leader inclusiveness and professional status on psychological safety and improvement efforts in health care teams. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(7) 941-966.
  • Miao, R.; Lu, L.; Cao, Y.; Du, Q. (2020). The High-Performance Work System, Employee Voice, and Innovative Behavior: The Moderating Role of Psychological Safety. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 17, 1150.
  • Rathert, C., Ishqaidef, G., & May, D. R. (2009). Improving work environments in health care: Test of a theoretical framework. Health Care Management Review, 34, 334–343.