Peer feedback is a formal or informal process where you write feedback for your co-workers, and receive feedback from them. Usually it is some variation of things to keep doing and things to change.
Managers get a lot of experience writing feedback for their team members. They usually do a decent job of it once they've received some coaching and training. Peer feedback is of a different quality level, because it's coming from people who don't usually write feedback.
I have read hundreds of fantastic gems of peer feedback. The below are some examples of the types of things I've read.
"Her code is high quality. But maybe she could go faster."
"His documents are good. Can't think of an area of improvement."
"He shouldn't have included the function call in the get method, it was not following conventions."
I'm sure that many people write the bare minimum feedback because they view it as a stupid process their corporation has forced on them. However, I think it's worthwhile to suspend your cynicism for a moment. Being handed a pile of well intentioned advice is fantastic. You might occasionally get feedback from your manager, but you shouldn't dismiss this gift of peer feedback lightly.
What's so great?
There are a few wonderful things about peer feedback.
- It's not from one person. Your manager will have opinions about how you should do your work, how you should act, and how you should do your job. It's a valuable point of view, but a single voice. If your manager says "Myra is sometimes rude when she gives her opinions", it might be that your manager's personality doesn't match with yours. If you have six co-workers, and they all mention some variation of "Myra is a jerk", you would immediately recognize that there is a suspicious pattern. The pattern might be that you're a jerk.
- It's not from the person who controls your career. When your manager gives feedback, it also comes with the knowledge that it comes from someone who has power over your job. If she says "I don't like how Vernon writes his emails", you might need to change how you write your emails. If a co-worker says the same thing, you can listen to the advice, but decide if you want to act on it. It's refreshing to receive feedback simply for the purpose of improving.
- It can be more detailed. If your manager gives you feedback about your work behavior, it's going to be in context of things your manager has seen, and specifically witnessed. This means it's limited in scope and detail. However, the people you work with will see significantly more. You can get feedback about every aspect of your work if they are diligent.
You also learn while writing!
When writing feedback, you have an opportunity to look at someone else's performance. Contrary to how some people write feedback, it should not be about a specific moment in time. You are looking for patterns in behavior. Instead of thinking how Sandra annoys you, you will have an opportunity to recognize the pattern in behavior. What specifically is bothering you, and how can you describe it in a factual way?
There is a wealth of learning from teaching something. You might think you're an awesome Scuba diver, but try to teach someone diving and your skills and knowledge will expand dramatically. During teaching, you go through the process and details of "why" you do certain things, when you break down your automatic reactions into educated explanations.
Similarly, when you go through the process of writing proper feedback, you'll find a number of lessons for yourself. Ways of describing behaviors and solutions which you may wish to personally adopt.