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Feedback and revision are crucial for producing high-quality work, , but the process of collecting it can be fraught with frustration. Relentless revisions. Endless ideas. Conflicting opinions.

Sparring helps you collect that valuable constructive criticism in a way that’s collaborative, organized, and efficient. Try it out and you won’t just end up with better feedback—you’ll end up with better projects. 

What exactly is sparring?

Sparring is a structured method for quickly collecting feedback. 

During a sparring session, you briefly present your work to a group of people and explain what you do (and don’t) want feedback on. Once you’ve presented your work, set a timer for 10 minutes of quiet time (you might need a little more time if your project is really meaty), during which everybody will individually review your work and mark down their own notes—either directly on your project with sticky notes and comments or in a shared document. When the timer dings, regroup and discuss the feedback to decide what’s worth implementing. 

While the word “sparring” might inspire visions of someone roundhouse kicking your first draft, this approach isn’t about exchanging blows or engaging in heated debates. In fact, sparring is meant to be actionable, encouraging, and collaborative.

How to use (and make the most of) sparring

As the above rundown illustrates, sparring itself is pretty straightforward. You present your work to the group, give them a little bit of time to review it and leave notes, and then discuss. Voilà. 

Be warned, though. The approach is simple, but your sparring sessions can quickly snowball without the right parameters and expectations in place. Here are four best practices (and examples) to get the most valuable and helpful feedback.

1. Confirm you’re actually ready for feedback

This might sound like we’re encouraging you to make sure you’re emotionally prepared to receive feedback—and there’s some truth to that. Constructive criticism can feel a little brutal (even when you ask for it), so make sure you’re in a headspace where you’re prepared to accept suggestions without taking them personally. 

But you also need to think practically about whether you’re ready to gather feedback. Is your first version finished enough that people will get a good sense of what you’re doing—even if it’s not completely polished yet?

Sparring is designed to be fast, which means you won’t have adequate time to flesh things out if you’re starting with only a nugget of an idea. Make sure that you have something tangible and somewhat complete ready for your sparring session.

This sparring best practice in action

YES: An HR manager presents a detailed outline for a new video series that will welcome and educate new employees. 

NO: An HR manager assembles a group and asks, “What do you think we should include in a video series for new employees?”

2. Carefully consider your participants

Your first inclination might be to pull together a group of people who are somewhat familiar with your work. But keep in mind that your goal is to benefit from diverse perspectives—and that only happens if you invite a mix of people.

Ask yourself these questions as you think through your attendees:

  • Who is playing an active role in this project?
  • Who will use or benefit from the end product of this project?
  • Who has past experience with a similar project?
  • Who has limited to no familiarity with this project and could bring some fresh insight?
  • Who has expressed interest in this project?

Write down your answers to those questions (and more, if you think of them). Doing so will help you intentionally assemble an assortment of different perspectives. 

This sparring best practice in action

YES: A senior graphic designer assembles people from the design team, customer support team, marketing team, and sales team to collect their feedback on the mockups for the blog redesign. 

NO: A senior graphic designer meets with the design team to collect their feedback on the mockups for the blog redesign.

3. Provide context ahead of time

Sparring is all about fast feedback. People only have 10 or so minutes to leave their notes, and that’s not enough time to be helpful if they have no knowledge of what they’re participating in. 

Set people up for success by providing enough context—including your project draft and any supporting materials—ahead of your meeting. Do this at least a few days so that people have adequate time to review. 

This means they can build up some basic familiarity and provide more thoughtful feedback during your sparring session, rather than feeling lost and rushed.

This sparring best practice in action

YES: A marketing director sends the updated brand guidelines, visual assets, and company’s core values to the group one week ahead of the sparring session. 

NO: A marketing director shares the updated brand guidelines during the session, without any supporting resources. 

4. Make specific feedback requests

Think questions like, “What do you think about this?” or “Do you have any suggestions?” are good enough prompts to get the helpful feedback you crave? Think again.

To get your hands on helpful insights that help push your project forward, you need to be explicit about what you’re currently looking for feedback on—as well as what you don’t want any feedback on. 

It might feel a little uncomfortable to state your needs so plainly, but it’s crucial for setting some boundaries and getting the most focused insights. 

This sparring best practice in action

YES: A customer support manager asks the group, “What feedback do you have on the categories for this new knowledge base? We’re not looking for any design feedback at this point in the project.” 

NO: A customer support manager asks the group, “What feedback do you have on this new knowledge base?”

What are the benefits of sparring?

Chances are, any previous attempts to gather insights and perspectives have turned up at least some valuable tidbits and suggestions you could use. 

So why even bother using this structured approach? Sparring offers several advantages over other looser approaches to collecting feedback. 

Receive targeted and helpful feedback

From, “This isn’t quite hitting the mark…” to “I don’t love it…” you’ve probably been on the receiving end of some vague (and, as a result, completely unhelpful) feedback before.

One of the best parts about sparring is that it forces you and everybody else to focus on exactly what you need feedback on. 

You won’t be overwhelmed with an avalanche of input about anything and everything that you need to sort through later. Sparring helps you gather different perspectives and ideas about only the pieces of your project you need fresh eyes on.

Prevent endless feedback loops

While you can repeat sparring sessions (and doing so can be helpful for refining your work even further), this structured approach does help you avoid getting stuck in an endless cycle of feedback and revisions. 

It’s a short meeting, which inherently sends the message that this isn’t an open-ended and indefinite feedback process. People need to share their suggestions during that short conversation if they want them considered. 

Plus, since you’re talking through feedback in a group setting, everybody can see other peoples’ ideas. That can spark some lively discussions, but saves you from later having to weed through remarks and suggestions that directly contradict each other. 

Give a voice to everyone

You might think that your existing brainstorming or feedback sessions are welcoming to everyone, but there’s still a strong chance that there are some team members—particularly your more introverted colleagues—who aren’t comfortable jumping in and asserting their ideas during a lively group conversation.

Sparring requires that you invite an array of people and then give them 10 minutes of quiet time to write down their notes, comments, and feedback, without all of the real-time back-and-forth. It’s an approachable format that gives everybody a chance to voice their opinion, even if they aren’t comfortable speaking up. You benefit from diverse perspectives and fresh ideas. 

Plus, this more focused, written feedback method can actually help everybody (introverted or not) tap into their creativity. It’s called brainwriting, and research shows that it helps teams not only come up with more ideas—but better ones. 

Take your feedback sessions (and your projects) to the next level

Your first version of something will almost never be your last. A first draft is only the begining—it’s the subsequent rounds of reviews and suggestions that make your work shine.

The revision process doesn’t need to be riddled with frustration and bottlenecks. Sparring allows you to get the honest and helpful feedback you need—as efficiently as possible. 


The art of sparring and how to use it for team feedback