Embracing the Red Card: A Powerful Real-time Feedback Approach

Team Working Agreements
Jānis Lāma
Jānis Lāma
Partner, Agile trainer and coach

Have you ever wondered how to create an environment that encourages open, honest, and even uncomfortable real-time feedback? As an Agile coach, I believe that continuous improvement thrives on transparency and the courage to address harsh realities. Together with my colleagues from GEDVILLO Consulting we do a lot of workshops and trainings, would like to share an insightful approach that we are recently experimenting with during our workshops – the “Red Card” approach.

At the beginning of each workshop, we introduce working agreements (see the picture) where one of the agreements is – “Allow to speak or you will receive a red card”. The idea is simple – if someone dominates the conversation and hinders others from sharing their thoughts, they may receive a red card from me or any participant, and they need to remain silent for that time. While I rarely need to use this card, as there are other facilitation approaches how you can deal with such persons, its introduction sets the stage for a more inclusive and productive workshop.

Flip the game – introduce a Red Card to receive the brutal facts about you!

Recently, we decided to flip the rules of the game, allowing participants to give a red card to us as the trainers and facilitators. We provide a simple yet powerful message: “This is your red card. Raise it whenever you feel the need to share a thought, observation, or criticism about me or the workshop. No restrictions, no penalties – just the freedom to voice anything.”

The Impact of the Red Card: Priceless

Yes, finally received my first red card! The insights I gained were invaluable. One participant bravely pointed out that my facilitation style unintentionally stifled independent thinking in the group. It was a humbling moment, but addressing this shortcoming was crucial for creating a more effective learning environment.

After the workshop, I spoke with the participant who raised the red card about his experience. He shared, “I felt empowered to use my red card and share my honest feedback, thus impacting the outcome and overall experience of the workshop.” Others agreed, and a comment arose – “This is how psychological safety is built!”

A Lesson for Organizations

The Red Card approach taught me one more time the importance of real-time feedback. While end-of-workshop surveys are helpful, having instant feedback in front of everyone elevates its significance. This made me think about how this approach could be applied within companies and organizations. What if each employee had the power to raise a “Red Card” when they see that words are not supported by actions, or that brutal facts are not considered and avoided? How much more valuable would that feedback be for driving positive change? And one more related question with what I am working on constantly – how many organisation founders and executives actually can let go of their egos and admit that they don’t know something?

Luckily, I have helped and know some organisation leaders who are creating similar environments, but sadly to say – we are still in the minority.

Food for Thought

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea – how can we build, and what are your tips and tricks, for a culture where employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions without fear of repercussions? How can we make sure that brutal facts are confronted and addressed constructively?
Don’t underestimate an environment where every voice is heard and where we grow stronger by embracing the “Red Card” mentality 🚩 as have seen so many organisations where good people are becoming demotivated by not having this…