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On “feedback” or “guidance” and Direct Communication value

One of the key values I preach and live with (for better or worse) is Direct Communication.  All of my dearest friends have at some point had a clear criticism to give me and help me grow.  Starting with my parents! Unfortunately these cases are rare pearls to find as it requires people to care for you personally, be corageous and also have the knowledge on how to give praise and criticism without damaging the relationship.

A good article I found on this is one which made me remember how hard it could be to organize a feedback session.

I have experienced the total silence or just avoidance from some people that I directly asked feedback from.  Not everyone is up for it.   So when I had the chance to build and lead a team I provided with specific time for this personal feedback to happen.  But not only from me!

It is great to have a boss that dares to give feedback but is even better to get it from your peers or people that expects decisions from you.  There are not many occasions to talk about the elephants in the room while working AND your peers share more time with you! So your boss might be good commenting how you performed in a specific meeting but could never be so accurate and get a comprehensive vision as a mate.

So after 3 months of weekly retrospectives as an Agile team of 6 people I put in the agenda 2 hours for a single topic: “each one of us will receive feedback from the rest of the team and listen.  You can only reply to make a question and dig into the comment, not to justify you.  Giving feedback is about behaviours, we do not pretend to know why that person is doing something, we just explain how that specific behaviour is perceived by oneself.  The person who gets it decides what to do with the information.  And if another person in the room agrees with the feedback given, should state it again at turn.”

As explained in the article, most people is tempted to sugarcoat the truth making it impossible to get the real message.  So I also added one radical rule to the invite: no “sandwich” feedback allowed.  This means that you cannot search for 2 great behaviours that person demonstrates in order to talk about the single one that you think and wish would change.  That was questioned by my team and perceived as mean.  “So only negative feedback allowed?”

I explained the reasoning behind: We know each other and we know we are the best in what we do (that’s why we are here!), and this is not to talk about what we know but about things that we may ignore and therefore remain as noise at work and areas for personal improvement.  Feedback is a gift.  Plus we are adults, and each one will evaluate if the feedback is relevant for himself.  And take ito account that if one says you do “A” it might not be relevant, but if 4 people says you do “A” and have same perception, maybe it is useful for you to consider to change it.

The meeting was received as weird (it was).  It wouldn’t have happened if we were a normal team, but the ground for it was built before by weekly retrospectives. In any case it was forceful for some people.  So I volunteered to be the first to receive the round of feedback.  It was the most amazing experience I had.  I asked how exactly I behaved in particular situations and I got the real answers.  Then I took public notes on my growing path, also prioritised of course  (as any other backlog).  And I decided on the importance based on the number of people mentioning it or the impact of my behaviours.

There was a case in which one of the team members got sick the day she was to receive feedback! So, just be aware it is stressful for some and requires an atmosphere that embraces personal improvement too.  Others just love it as much as I did and volunteers appeared easily with time.  I recommend to have these personal feedback sessions if you are an Agile team that really cares for People as much for Outcomes.  

I can explain some variations my team experienced in other posts!  Now I will continue my summer fresh holidays in Germany!  Wishing to know your own experience!