“Can I give you feedback on your feedback?” – Evolving our feedback mechanisms to keep us growing.

Written by Chris Hardy - November 10, 2020

As team coach and developmental lead at Wholegrain Digital, I deliver monthly training on topics deemed important by the team. This month we focused on the skill of giving and receiving feedback. In this article I’ll  share with you some of the key challenges we’re facing and what we’re learning in the process.

Why we felt feedback training was important for us

(Caveat; we have not cracked the ‘feedback challenge’, it’s a work in progress but we’re proud of the steps we’ve taken and the positive changes we’ve witnessed within the team.)

Feedback is something that every organisation struggles with. It’s an ongoing challenge that calls for high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), especially trust and empathy. The trouble is that trust and empathy are not necessarily thought of as a normal or natural part of business, and are not easily developed. They are also easily destroyed, leading to a downward spiral in interpersonal dynamics. 

Consider the damage done inside an organisation when it seems that trust has all but disappeared. Constructive feedback that might otherwise help you grow becomes a source of anxiety and you find yourself wondering if this means your job is on the rocks, or whether the person in front of you is telling the truth. This causes you to tighten up, suspect the worst, and become closed to any further input or references to your performance.

On the other hand, openness and honesty, resulting in timely and straightforward feedback, is the gift that keeps on giving. Trust is cultivated as you know the person in front of you tells you the truth, even if it’s difficult for them to do so. You get alternative real-time perspectives on how your work is affecting others, and you are offered support in making improvements to how you operate. Employees whose upward feedback is regularly well received know their voice matters; they’re respected and that they are valued within the company.

Good feedback relies on a number of competencies in both parties involved; the giver and the receiver. At Wholegrain, we’re also experiencing an additional level of challenge in that our team hasn’t met face to face for 9 months now and so all conversations are happening via video calls.

Here’s what we’re doing to tackle the feedback challenge:

It can be a case of personal preference + trial and error of finding the channels which have been most effective for giving feedback.

We spend a lot of time communicating during the working day, through all the networking tools that we have. In giving feedback we’ve been experimenting with the majority of sessions happening as conversations, and if that’s not possible in the desired space of time either via email or Slack. Slacking somebody to book in a call then scheduled in Google calendar works well for us, enabling us to find a time that works for both parties quickly, with the video link already within the booking.

Team training on the behaviours we want in feedback with support for structured conversations.

Our October topic for training was feedback. Part of this session was the provision of a ‘cheat sheet’ with a proposed outline for how feedback could be structured, useful ways to prepare and questions to use in the conversation. This means we have a unified approach to feedback which enables more trust and safety for both the giver and receiver when entering into the conversation.

We covered ideas like ensuring feedback is coming from a place of care and compassion, that it is somebody offering a valuable perspective that you can’t see yourself, that it can (and should) happen in all directions, and that it isn’t something that happens once a year but is more of an ongoing conversation throughout everyday business operations.

“The framework for giving feedback really helped structure my thoughts in the moment so that’s already been super useful, thank you!”

Tommy, Senior Developer

A review of the training after three weeks with an internal challenge to all employees to take action implementing this new skill.

Training topics do not become well incorporated on their own; we’ve found it useful to review the training and its implementation after a few weeks. Having a follow up call means the challenge to give and receive feedback from two different people (so four conversations in total) had a clear deadline and encouraged swift action. Not everybody managed, but plenty of new conversations were had and we had an interesting discussion when we regrouped.

“Just had the most straightforward feedback conversation I’ve ever had. I think the training is a big part of it.”

Jerome, Senior Developer

Individual coaching for team members to help develop their EQ skills and remove barriers to giving feedback.

Our personal reasons for avoiding feedback conversations are just that, personal. That’s why we support employee development through monthly 1-1 coaching sessions. These confidential sessions allow individual needs to be attended to in a way that group training can’t manage. Understanding our personal limiting beliefs about feedback and what emotional resistance we might have to these confrontational conversations can help us move beyond these barriers.

One to one conversations also give individuals the opportunity to practice verbalising feedback they would give to others in a safe and confidential space. 

Encouraging people to make clear requests for the topics they’d like feedback on, and who they’d like feedback from.

Thinking carefully about who we’d like feedback from, and defining what aspects of our work we’d like feedback on, is a great way to initiate powerful feedback conversations. We know our own job roles better than anybody, and helping our team around us to give accurate and valuable feedback is as simple as asking for specific areas of improvement from someone who can comment on that area.

This enables an active role in creating a good feedback culture; rather than waiting for the conversation to happen, you can go out and create what you’d like to experience. 

“I am much more conscious of my role in conversations and how to give and receive suggestions, and indeed to ask for it – I have attempted feedback on several occasions, mostly with success.”

Vineeta, Director

Facing the challenge head on.

We recognise the importance of feedback to our success as an organisation and also acknowledge that it’s not an easy thing to do. As a team we’re making great progress mostly from a willingness to face the challenge head on and simply have a go! If you’d like to know more about our training or how we’re implementing changes within Wholegrain, please contact us and ask for me directly.

The quote below encapsulates the Wholegrain approach to developing our organisation for the better. There is no definitive ‘right way’, because we’re dealing with human nature.

“Just wanted to give you an update on my own feedback experiences – I’ve managed to get some in though one was slightly more impromptu than I was intending!  That made it feel quite intense but it had a good outcome even though it was a bit scary.”

Tommy, Senior Developer