Personal Feedback in Agile Teams
Far too few are the opportunities for co-workers to give each other positive feedback, or any kind of personal feedback at all. Some people balk at addressing individual behavior in front of the whole team during a retrospective, some might not want to give touchy-feely personal feedback at all. A medium-risk activity for personal feedbacking is a pair-wise personal feedback session. After this exercise, the team should be more comfortable discussing individual behavior routinely and trustfully.
The short-term goals of a personal feedback session are threefold. People can appreciate each other and receive positive strokes, everyone gathers information from a variety of perspectives in order to plan their personal growth, and every participant can compare observations of their managers with the gathered peer feedback in the next performance review. Sorry, fourfold: It is an opportunity for more frequent personal feedback than just yearly with your manager. Remember, going agile means shortening feedback loops.
So here is what we do with some of our teams:
- The team is asked whether they want to give personal feedback to each other. The process continues only if no one vetoes.
- A reminder pops up a day before the scheduled meeting, asking participants to prepare their feedback to the others. The reminder also points out the feedback rules (separate observation from your interpretation, discuss behavior but not the person, etc.) and includes suggestions for feedback topics (self-management, technical skills, teamwork, insert skills of your software engineer job description here).
- At the start of the meeting, all participants are asked to voice their expectations. One can also try the introductory question “Why we do this personal feedback thing?” and be surprised by the answers.
- The meeting itself kicks off with a repetition of said feedback rules.
- The participants pair off for the first round, withdrawing in corners of the room, or to adjacent meeting rooms.
- Each pair has ten minutes. For five minutes, the first person gives the other feedback, then the roles switch and the second person gives feedback to the first. The receiver should take notes.
- After the ten minutes are over, all participants gather and find their new pairs. You need one round less than there are participants, e.g., in a team of six, there are five rounds of ten-minute-feedback.
- In closing, participants are asked what they took from the session.
With opening and closing words and a little overhead, the whole ceremony fits in just over an hour for a team of six. The short time slots force the the participants to focus on the most important points of the feedback. The Scrum Master or Agile Coach may participate. It gives the coach the opportunity to give individual feedback and receive feedback about their coaching behavior.
The meeting facilitator needs to prepare a set of slides showing the pairs for each round, as spontaneous pairing will probably not work but leave someone idle in the last round(s). An even number of participants is to be desired (if necessary, exclude the Scrum Master). Also, a big visible and audible timer set to five minutes is required to keep track of the time. The facilitator should either be a team member and take part in the feedback, or leave the room to avoid accidental eavesdropping on the feedback. Also, the facilitator might want to point out that the Scrum Master is available for confidential discussion when someone struggles with aspects of their feedback.