Andy Hansen

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Giving effective feedback

  • teamwork
  • teams
  • feedback

Being unable to give feedback is a common trait in the software industry. We learn how to talk to a computer, but we end up in a team with a bunch of people, so it’s unsurprising that the majority of issues teams have are with people.

In this post I’m going to outline what effective feedback looks like, and how to harness it by creating a culture of feedback.

The anatomy of effective feedback

A.S.K. is the best feedback framework I’ve found for getting started, because it’s simple. Give feedback which is actionable, specific, and kind.

Creating bad feedback is easy. “I really hate when you show up to stand up late”. This certainly tells someone that you are frustrated when they are late, but it is unkind, and they probably won’t take initiative on the implied action of “showing up to stand up on time”.

Better feedback looks something like “I appreciate mornings can be busy, but it’s important that everyone in this team respects each others time. Can you please show up to stand up at 10am?”. Within this feedback you are giving them an excuse, and telling them directly what you need from them.

Taking the time to give feedback is useful for everyone. It’s clear to the person receiving the feedback what they can improve on, and keeps the focus on the behaviour which needs to change, rather than disliking the person.

Of course, giving feedback does not guarantee it will be acted upon, but it’s in your best interest to make is as likely as possible.

When to give feedback

Constructive feedback early and often is one of the best indicators of a healthy team. It means minor issues are being dealt with before they become a problem. When I get feedback it’s a massive relief, because it’s an opportunity for me to become a better teammate. It’s also incredibly empowering to be a part of a team which is looking out for each other in this way. You can feel safe knowing that you are a valued member of the team, because any issue you are causing are open for discussion.

Early feedback does not mean instant, I generally recommend it giving it privately afterwards. Public feedback is kept for particularly bad behaviour which needs to be stopped immediately.

But how do you create a culture of feedback?

Creating a culture of feedback

It’s not going to be a short process, but you will see the benefits at every step along the way. Feedback needs to be supported by a culture which allows failure. Getting feedback can mean you are failing in some (often minor) way. A culture of feedback where it is not safe to fail is a hostile environment, and will not last long. Your motivation when responding to feedback should be to become a better teammate, not to avoid punishment.

The best way to kick start a culture of feedback is to give everyone the tools they need. Run small sessions (no more than 6ish) with each of your teams, giving them the fundamentals of feedback, and explaining why it’s important. Use this session as a discussion, giving participants the opportunity to talk about what they think makes good or bad feedback. Over the next few weeks, the participants have a bit of homework: one positive, and one constructive piece of feedback for each member of their team. This is best done face-to-face, but over messages can work as well if the team is very new to this. In my experience, these sessions work as a great ice-breaker to the idea of feedback. To maintain that momentum, you can run these feedback sessions a few times each year.

If you don’t feel confident running a session of feedback, but still want to make a difference, the best place to start is through positive feedback. It gets people used to hearing feedback, and it starts to build those habits of acknowledging teammates behaviour. A genuine complement can go a long way, it makes someone feel valued. Someone who feels valued, is also more likely to take constructive feedback on-board.

Closing

I hope you’ve found something useful in those blog post. The plan is to create many more in the future. If you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it in the comments.