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!


Spring time comes to Chicago

The last week has been beautiful in Chicago Mid 20’s (mid 70’s for you Fahrenheit folk) and gorgeous sun.  Thankfully Tim and I made it out to the park this afternoon after doing lots of sorting of our apartment ready to move in a couple of weeks. One cobbled together awesome picnic from Fox and Obel later and we were ON.

Pictures taken in PFC Milton Olive Park by Navy Pier in Chicago.


Ski/Snowboard iPhone Apps : EpicMix and Ski Tracks


I was in Vail last weekend, not only was the snow great and the weather awesome, I was excited to try out EpicMix. As a geek I love a good app, and I also love a good graph and I definitely love skiing.

EpicMix tracks your activity on the mountain using an RFID chip in your ski pass. At the base of each lift your ski pass will be picked up and your activity logged. You can then view your activity on the website or on the accompanying iPhone and Android Apps. You earn pins for your achievements and there are hundreds to unlock. It also tracks your vertical feet skied based on the lifts that you used. New for this year too (although I didn’t try it), was that you could use one of the on mountain photographers to capture images or you around the mountain that are automatically added to your account.

I thought it was pretty awesome, and a great start towards tracking your activity on the mountain. Cons for me are that it doesn’t track which slopes you skied, just the lifts that you road, it could do with integration with your phones GPS, and also that it took 4 or 5 hours to sync to my phone from the time I actually skied. I’m sure it will improve over time… if they need a developer…;-)

EpicMix covers the Vail family of resorts, Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Heavenly, Northstar and Keystone.

Get on iTunes here:


Ski Tracks

Ski Tracks I discovered a couple of seasons ago. The premise is similar, tracking your journey around the mountain, although instead of RFID in uses GPS, and instead of being a social media platform it is more of a stats app.

It tracks where you skied on a Google Map and shows you your max speed, altitudes, metres skied etc. You launch the app and it runs in your pocket, it integrates with the iPod too. On my 3Gs it drains the battery pretty bad but I’ve heard from others with newer iPhones that this isn’t the case for them.

The accuracy is pretty decent, and my brother and I had a lot of fun with this one, trying to beat our max speed and seeing just how much of the mountain that we’d covered that day. It goes into a lot of detail and you can see a run-by-run breakdown of where you skied.

An obvious advantage over EpicMix is that you can use this anywhere and not just an enabled resorts.

Get on iTunes here:

Photography: Composition Workshop

A few weeks ago I bought a Groupon for a photography class on Composition in Chicago through the Digital Photo Academy. We spent the morning walking around Millenium Park looking for shots. It was a beautiful day for it. Didn’t feel like I got as much out of it as the other two classes I’ve done. But it was still nice.

Here are a few of mine: