Team feedback – when defaults may not be enough

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How do you set up and reinforce communication and feedback loops at your workplace? How people you work with feel about their team, project, company? How much of a quality feedback all of your teammates get about their work? For some time I have been asking myself these and similar questions. Basically, “Are weat Pragmatic Coders, doing enough in this matter?” or “Am I doing enough in this matter?”. A couple of months ago I analyzed what feedback opportunities we had enabled. I reached a conclusion there is more we can do about it.

What can you expect from this article

First, let me explain what you can expect. In the article I describe:

  • The reason why I started looking for additional methods to incorporate in two teams I work with at Pragmatic Coders.
  • Which techniques – “one on one” meetings and “360 degree feedback” – we have gone with.
  • The results we have already obtained.

What this article is not

It is worth noting we are still on our path of trial and error, shaping them up. I will not present any core evidence proving drastic improvements. We are gathering data and it will take time to decide which steps were right and which wrong. By all means, the described approach is nowhere near groundbreaking, yet to me a very helpful one, yielding some great results.

When scrum ceremonies and coffee chats may not be enough

Indeed, everyday chats over a cup of coffee or scrum events sometimes just fall short. I would name them the basic feedback/communication tools every Scrum Master fledgling starts with and masters through time. I have found them lacking in some of the environments.

The matters not addressed back then were:

  • Despite having fruitful retrospectives, some of the issues did not reach the surface and remained hidden even to me. We did not have a trigger that let them out.
  • I got to know about a few of teammates’ individual matters they were stuck with and had not brought up for a considerable amount of time. No idea on how many of them remained hidden.
  • People were not getting a fully satisfactory feedback on their work and cooperate with others.
  • Not everyone knew in what areas they could develop inside and outside of the team, what are the opportunities.

One-on-one feedback meetings

As far as I heard and seen, one-on-one meetings are usually done with a manager or any other supervising role in a company. Things are a little bit different with the ones I have conducted. I am a peer to everyone I meet with. Literally everyone. I am not responsible for either promotions or salaries. What I am responsible for, is the happiness of people in Pragmatic Coders, team efficiency and the happiness of Pragmatic Coders customers. Hence one-on-one meetings are for participants, not me. I provide my assistance and help so anyone could:

  • Simply vent, sometimes you just need someone to listen or talk it out.
  • Let me know about any inconveniences or blockers disturbing work or life in the company.
  • Clear up any misunderstandings or communication issues, both inside a team and company.
  • Discuss matters in confidentiality, whatever happens during one-on-one stays between us two unless we decide to follow it up with someone else or resolving the issue means pulling more people into the discussion (I still have to get a consent).
  • Provide feedback to any individual, group, team, founders or the whole organization.
  • Discuss development opportunities.
  • Request specific feedback, if needed.
  • Actually, we will discuss whatever topic is brought up. It is meant to be a safe space to address participants’ needs.

A one-on-one takes 30 min, additionally I am available every day if anyone needs my help. I took the liberty of applying a policy – every one-on-one ends with action items to realize before the next session. It is challenging but not impossible, so far every meeting ended with at least one. And yes, we are completing them too!

360 degree feedback

Every quarter each team goes through 360 degree feedback process. I chose the frequency to keep information fresh and up to date. Team members deserve a comprehensive and quality feedback of their work. There are no better candidates for delivering it than teammates. They spend most of the time with each other, share work/burdens, no one in the organization can rival their knowledge in the matter.

The process structure is pretty straightforward, based on 1on1 interaction. I meet with each team member to facilitate a one hour session where she/he provides feedback about everyone else in the team. In the next step I aggregate the written feedback for each person. Then, again, I meet with each team member to pass on the feedback in an anonymous form. I will explain the intricacies of the process in a separate blog post.

How do I know if it works

Excellent question! After all doing something just for the sake of doing anything may not be really valuable. At the moment I know we have been able to:

  • Successfully complete over 60% of action items.
  • Identify and remove several major blockers that I have not been aware before.
  • Provide development opportunities in the organization that were not clearly defined before.
  • Increase the happiness level of several team members (confirmed by participants, still a bit subjective for a good measure).
  • Improve team dynamics by providing support and guidance to particular team members.
  • Give me, the Scrum Master, a better picture of how things are in the teams.

All of the improvements I mentioned above show the approach to be very promising. The important part is to spot the areas to improve and work on them. What I am still figuring out:

  • How to measure the value of each action item in a way other than with a gut feeling.
  • Correlating the initiative with company metrics.
  • Involving teams into shaping up the categories for 360 degree feedback.
  • If we still have a layer of hidden issues.

As a result, in just a few months, I have already helped teams and gotten a lot of valuable information. It is and will be an ongoing process, many awaiting adjustments, many new things to experiment with. Stay tuned!

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