peer to peer feedback

Not until I became a mid-level developer, did I learn about providing feedback. Sure I’ve heard the term “constructive criticism”, but I mostly associate it with work, whether it would be a document, block of code, presentation, or design mock-up. I never thought of giving feedback about another co-worker’s communication skills, her/his actions towards myself or other, how she/he presents herself/himself in meetings or small group settings. Because it felt like you were criticizing the person, I did not want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Where I work, instead of having a performance review with your manager or director with generic questions like being a team player and the dress code, we participate in a 360 Feedback Cycle. Sometimes a manager may or may not be able to see what you do daily. Plus, she/he can only provide one perspective of your performance. 360 Feedback is an exercise where employees, regardless of rank, can provide feedback on each other’s work performance. Feedback from your peers can be more insightful, because these are folks who you probably work with every minute of every working hour. She/he would have a good perspective of how you work and what you could do to improve. It was very intimidating at first. I’ve seen other companies do 360 Feedback anonymously. But for our case, we openly provide feedback to our peers. We use an online tool called Small Improvements. This is how we approached our first 360 Feedback Cycle.

Step 1: Select team members to provide feedback.

Selecting team members can be simple or difficult, depending on how you approach it. We were able to select anyone from our team: the director, team lead, another developer, a product owner, a QA Analyst, etc. During our first trial run, our team had 4 office locations (Vancouver, Canada; Norfolk, VA; Fareham, UK; San Jose, CR. We were allowed to pick someone who knew us really well or hardly knew us at all. Since we were in a lot of meetings as a big group, picking someone who didn’t know you well would give you an idea of what you may perceive as. Picking someone of a different job title provided a different perspective of your work and communication skills. My first time, I selected one from each office, two of them having different skill sets than me.

As a requester, be mindful of how many people you request feedback from. Consuming feedback from 3 people might be easier to digest than 5. Though feedback is helpful, it’s hard to focus on 10 things to improve rather than 3 to 5.

Step 2: Accept/deny requests for feedback.

We were given the choice to accept or deny feedback requests. The things to keep in mind are:

  • As a reviewer, only accept a certain amount of requests you have the capacity to do. Providing feedback is time consuming. The requester respects your insight so give her/him the respect of putting thought into it.
  • As a requester, do not be offended if the reviewer denies your request. This gives you an opportunity to find someone who will have the capacity to give you feedback vs not receiving any feedback.

Step 3: Preparing to write feedback.

Since it was our first time, not everyone on the team prepped for writing feedback. It’s not necessary but it certainly helps generate the thoughts. These were the original questions from the first round of 360 feedback:

1. How does this person exhibit respect? How can they improve?

Examples of things you may consider:

  • Does this person provide honest and constructive feedback to coworkers, regardless of department and role?
  • Does this person respect the time and work-product of coworkers?

2. How does this person exhibit continuous improvement? How can they improve?

Examples of things you may consider:

  • Does this person improve the skills related to their job?
  • Does this person take time to improve their “soft skills”?

3. How does this person exhibit visibility? How can they improve?

Examples of things you may consider:

  • Is this person’s verbal and written communication proactive, appropriate, timely and targeted to the right audience?

4. How does this person exhibit teamwork? How can they improve?

Examples of things you may consider:

  • Does this person accept their share of the team’s work?
  • Does this person work with others to help them improve?
  • Does this person work to eliminate silos by sharing their knowledge?

5. Is there anything else you want to add?

Examples of things you may consider:

  • In what other ways can this person contribute to the company? Are there other areas in which they can improve?

As a reviewer, it was helpful to have a quick conversation with each requester and find out:

  • What are you looking to get out of your feedback?
  • Are there specific areas or questions you would like me to cover that is not listed?
  • Are there any goals you’d like to set depending on the feedback you receive?

I either setup a Google Hangout meeting/in-person chat or send an email. Sometimes if you’ve worked with people long enough, you know what makes them feel more comfortable.

It’s always great to get an understanding of what a person’s looking for. Some people look for specific types of feedback to measure if she/he is progressing towards her/his goals. I found it best to schedule a couple of hour sessions to sit down and focus on writing feedback on each request. I felt like an hour was not enough time to provide adequate feedback but breaking it up into multiple sessions allowed me to braindump, review my thoughts, and tweak as needed.

As a requester, it’s basically the opposite side of the questions above.

  • When you receive the feedback, what are you expecting?
  • Are you looking to find the strengths you wish to enhance or identify the weaknesses you can improve upon?
  • Do you have work or personal goals you can measure with this feedback?

Whatever you can do to help your reviewer provide you useful feedback, communicate it to them. It’s easier to write feedback when you have a direction vs having completely open forum. With that much freedom, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.

Step 4: Writing feedback.

Oh the fun part. My first time, I didn’t do the preparation from a reviewer standpoint but I did provide my reviewers some questions I would like for them to answer within my feedback.

Session 1 — Brain Dump

I find it easier to use my first session as a brain dump to answer the original questions and the additional questions. Get all the words down in a document without any hesitation. That way, all I wanted to say was written down so I would not forget. I can easily think of something and completely forget it within minutes. If you have a short first session, a quick outline or bullet points would help.

Session 2 & 3 — Review Feedback and Tweak

When writing feedback, it’s always good to review your language and tone. Though you are providing constructive criticism, you also do not want to want to sound like you are personally attacking the requester. I’ve read that if you are providing criticism, address the behavior, not the person. Try not to use the sandwich technique (good habit/bad habit/good habit). The good habits might not be received as genuine because it seems forced to cover up a bad habit. This was a super helpful advice I heard from the audiobook, Radical Candor.

I mark all the things I need to tweak and adjust accordingly. I re-read through my changes and pretend I’m receiving this feedback. How would I react if I received this feedback? Review and tweak as necessary.

If you have suggestions on how to improve certain skills, provide any good references. Offer any assistance, if you have capacity to do so.

Here are a few good references on providing feedback:

Aside from Small Improvements, I found another tool that could be useful for regular 1-on-1 conversations called Lead Honestly. Currently, it is for managers to use with their team. I’m hoping that they will add a feature so that their direct reports can also provide feedback or ask questions.

Step 4: Submit feedback.

For Small Improvements, you were allowed to submit the feedback to the requester, but requester would receive it when the deadline was over.

If you don’t have this tool, you can send it via email.

Step 5: Review feedback.

Since the reviewer put a lot of thought into your feedback, it’s best that you, as a requester, set some time aside to review it.

  • What are some things you didn’t know you did well? Try to maintain or enhance these positive behaviors.
  • Are there areas you would like to improve? Changing habits are not always easy. Depending on the amount of feedback you received collectively, find 2 or 3 things that you can make into goals for the month, quarter or the year. Define the main goal and break it out into small goals.

My Example

Main Goal: I would like to become more vocal amongst the team.

Baby Steps:

  • Speak up more during stand up.
  • Try to ask at least one question during a meeting. It’s possible that others want to know the answer as well.
  • If you have thoughts about a particular topic of discussion, share them.
  • Present an idea to a small group or the whole team.
  • Offer to host a sprint meeting such as retrospective or review.

I also found a great article about getting the most out of your feedback.

Step 6: Follow-up on feedback.

As a requester, it’s best to reach out to the reviewer if you need clarification about any of the feedback. How you interpret the feedback might be different from the message or purpose the reviewer is trying to communicate.

As a reviewer, it’s good to follow-up on feedback you provided.

  • Did the requesters have any questions about what you wrote?
  • Do requesters need help with goal setting?

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Now that you’ve been through the feedback cycle, you can have it as frequent or infrequent as you want. Doing a feedback cycle every quarter is a good default. A year might not be as useful since a lot can happen within that timeframe. Quarterly allows for a sufficient amount of time to progress and frequent enough to reflect.

Hopefully this opens the door for more casual and frequent feedback on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve also read a few interesting articles about feedback: