Hang up the Telephone

Joe Still
2 min readAug 12, 2021

Certain feedback can feel difficult to give directly to a team mate. In an organization, it can seem less difficult to relay it through the recipient’s manager. Though a manager is a great resource, relaying feedback through them can create a dangerous game of telephone.

The recipient of the relayed feedback might wind up not on casual speaking terms with the feedback originator. I have seen a few times this lead to complaints like “no one is talking to me”. A functional autonomous team requires direct communication between members about performance, commitments, requirements, and improvement needs. Therefore, an end requirement of this dynamic must be direct communication. If direct communication can not be achieved then the members are simply incompatible.

I expect there are a few ways to solve the end requirement of direct communication. One way I see following along the metaphor of the game of telephone is to start a 3 way call with the middle man and the feedback originator. It is important for the feedback recipient to get on the same page with the middle man prior to this 3 way call. On the 3 way call, again in service of the end requirement, there needs to be direct communication between the feedback originator and the end recipient. The middle man should only serve to facilitate the direct communication. It should only take a few calls at most to establish direct communication at which point it might become safe to kick the middle man out of the 3 way call and move forward with functional direct communication alone.

Keeping the telephone game going implies the recipient is unable to own their criticisms and that as demonstrated by the telephone game itself… that the team can not function between the two individuals without manager support which can not be acceptable long term. It is very important to hang up the telephone sooner than later. Every time I have seen the game of telephone relied upon for providing feedback beyond single use, it has resulted in severe isolation of the feedback recipient by the entire team, often terminally.