Group Feedback Sessions

It’s that time of year again… Spring reviews.

Now I have been on teams that are great at giving and receiving feedback, it’s adhoc, it’s frequent, and often immediately following the event that you are getting feedback about. I have also been on teams where this wasn’t the case. I think that unless you have that culture of continuous feedback on your team from the start, it’s quite hard to break that mental barrier, and can feel like getting blood from a stone. It can be a daunting and intimidating prospect to even ASK for feedback let alone give it.

Last week I rolled off a client that I had been at for just over a year, and this was one of those teams that we were pretty terrible at giving each other feedback. As the spring reviews were looming, and providing the kick that we needed, as well as my roll off and a couple of other impending staffing changes, we thought let’s just do a group session and ‘get it over with’.

A couple of people on the team had done group feedback sessions before. I was new to this. I felt a mixture of excitement and fear at the prospect of sitting in a room while everyone tells you what they think of you…. The team has been together for a long time now though and we are all quite comfortable with each other. We were also a reasonably small group of 8, so that made it seem much more manageable.

Our new PM Eric, carefully crafted a format for us to follow and he roped in a couple of our ‘people people’ (HR) to facilitate.

To keep the sessions constructive and focused, there was prep work for each of us before the session. We would each spend time self-reflecting on

  • What I bring to a project
  • What are the greatest challenges I face in the performance of my job.
  • What specific actions I am taking or plan to take to overcome my challenges.
  • What are my goals for the next year

Putting our thoughts into a Google Doc that we would then share with all of the team. It’s a fascinating learning experience to see what is on each person’s radar. Each of us would then add points for each person that we felt weren’t already covered, especially focusing on what they bring to the team. The focus here is that it’s easy to know what you are not so good at, but not always easy to be able to reflect on what you are great at, and what others think you are great at. If someone has identified something that they think they should work on, there is no need for the other 12 people on the team to point it out too. Also gives everyone a chance to process their feedback in their own way before talking through it, and saves you trying to collect feedback while people are talking to you. (because who can ever remember!)

Now to the actual session. We allowed 3 hours, after work, offsite, with pizza and a couple of beers. It was exhausting but well worth it. There were 4 parts to the session.

  • Icebreaker – Everyone taking turn to tell a funny story, either from the project or within the company.
  • What are you great at? – Each person take turns to talk about the 3 things that they are proud of/have done well. With everyone else adding points to it. For me it was actually the most uncomfortable part! Turned into an hour long love fest but well worth it.
  • How can you get better? Speed dating style. Everyone pairs off and spends 3/4 minutes each talking through the feedback that they got from that person and any other questions/clarifications that have come up from talking to others. Until everyone has spoken to everyone.
A MAJOR benefit for me of choosing to do it speed dating style and not round table, is that you have broken the barrier of one on one feedback. Now that you’ve talked together in this setting, conversations will happen naturally during pairing, coffee breaks etc.
If people know what you are working on when it comes to your personal development, they will be able to provide much better and more useful feedback when they see something happening, and encouragement when they see you getting better.
It was a great session that I’m really glad that we did. In a couple of evening’s work, all the feedback we needed for our reviews was collected, and we learnt a lot about each other and ourselves. The team committed to doing one of these more formal sessions every quarter, with the one and one stuff more often. I’m not sure how well it will be kept up, will have to ask them in 6 months or so!
Some lessons:
  1. Think about the format that you want to use beforehand, and prepare. Communicate this plan with the team beforehand so that they can prepare themselves.
  2. Fill in your own feedback and other’s BEFORE the session
  3. Talk about any hopes and/or concerns that the team has beforehand so that they can be addressed and built into the format.
  4. Get someone NOT on the team to facilitate the session.
  5. Hold the session offsite (Incase client discussions come up, also to provide  ‘safer’ environment).
  6. It is the facilitator’s job to ensure that session stays focused and constructive. Push where necessary.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

 

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One thought on “Group Feedback Sessions

  1. We did this on a project that I worked on a couple of years ago as well – http://www.markhneedham.com/blog/2010/07/07/group-feedback/

    It sounds like your version of it was a bit more organised – we only had three people in our group though so it probably didn’t need as much organisation. Given that we wrote the feedback for each other while we were sitting at the table and then talked about each person in turn.

    It was a bit brutal at times but I think it’s probably the best feedback approach I’ve seen.

    I mentioned it to a couple of guys in India who had had a bad experience with it where they’d seen a colleague ripped to shreds by the rest of the group and they’d had their confidence pretty much destroyed so that’s something to look out for. I guess by having HR facilitators you had that covered.

    Cool post by the way!

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