Agile & Change
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Agile & Change

Gathering valuable feedback for your growth pt.1

Part one of eight — maintaining your growth as an Agile Coach and a consultant. An interview with Viktor Cessan.

For the past months Viktor and I have been exchanging thoughts on feedback and on how to develop personally in environments where there is no or little feedback. We started talking about this because we’ve both had challenges with giving and receiving feedback, and despite the amount of books that exist on the subject and leadership training teams take we’ve found that feedback continues to be a problem for teams as well. We just don’t seem to give enough of it and what’s given often holds low quality.

To start a wider discussion on the topic we’re going to conduct a series of 8 interviews with 8 different people in different roles in 8 weeks. Today I (Marcin) interview Viktor who has written several interesting blog posts on feedback and runs feedback workshops.

Marcin: How were you struggling with feedback and what were the challenges from a growth perspective?

Viktor: Quite a few years ago when I was working at Spotify my then organisation was undergoing quite significant change. The chapter I belonged to was also having a rough time in that we were expected to collaborate but some felt we didn’t have a compelling reason to and that we didn’t really need each other to our solve problems, and we’d had several conflicts in our chapter in which I was central in one. So there was tension in the chapter and forces that were increasing the space between us coaches.

Back then one of my defensive behaviors was to remove myself emotionally and professionally from relationships where I perceived myself to be unfairly treated instead of raising the topic with the person who I thought treated my poorly. I can’t stress enough how many negative consequences this brought me. When I was expected to collaborate with the other people involved in the conflict I was not congruent. I’d either disconnect entirely and just sit quiet or I’d completely disregard the other person’s needs and treat him or her disrespectfully.

When they’d then give me feedback about that I disregard that feedback too and isolated myself even further. Eventually I stopped attending all meetings they attended. Thankfully I was doing a good job and making an impact on the teams I was coaching or I’d probably have been fired.

One day I was given a development plan by my manager who demanded that I learn from this, grow, and repair my relationships. On one level I agreed and saw her point but on another I was angry and surprised that she’d let this go so far before talking with me about the elephant in the room.

I needed to take responsibility for my behavior. I also needed to start holding other people accountable for their behaviour, and learn how to set boundaries when people mistreated me. To do that I would need to take more emotional space in my relationships and my first step was to change my self perception.

I used to have the self perception that I needed to understanding, put other people’s needs first, be kind, be accepting, be the bigger person, and to assume good intent but that doesn’t work. When you stop listening to your needs and you put other people first despite them treating you poorly you belittle yourself and that’s what I was doing and had been doing my whole life.

Slowly I took more and more responsibility for my past behaviors and I started becoming open to feedback again. I also started giving people feedback about their behaviors both past and present.

This was a difficult time for me.

M: What role does feedback play in your personal growth?

V: Feedback is really important to me. Feedback helps me understand how my behavior affects other people and my relationships with them. It helps me become a better collaborator, peer, and leader. Without feedback it’s difficult to understand which of my behaviors that are ineffective.

M: What do you do in situations where feedback is vague or has low quality?

V: Difficult question. On the one hand I need feedback but in my experience it’s not common that workplaces actively invest in feedback and as a result the quality is low. I lead by example by offering and soliciting feedback often. When I solicit feedback I make it very specific. Instead of asking general questions such as “Is there anything in our collaboration that you like or would like to change” I might ask “In our last meeting I took up quite a lot of airtime and my perspective was discussed more than yours. How was that for you?”.
I’ve found it makes it easier for people to speak about it once I permission and focus the conversation.

I’ve also found that when offering feedback that comes from a place of care, honest, and specific, it shows people that it can be something valuable. How helpful it can be. How unobtrusive and caring it can be and they get curious and want to learn more.

M: What are some signs that indicate you are in a feedback poor environment?

V: A few potential signs that might indicate being in a feedback poor environment, or one that where feedback has low quality is that people do not offer feedback they push it down your throat. It is also common to be judged and labeled in such environments e.g. “You’re such an x, y, or z”. You could also be instructed — “You are not good at X and need to start doing Y”. Feedback is focused around what you’ve done wrong or well meaning it’s only about your performance. The term “Shit sandwich” is also quite representative. People do not know how to offer respectful, caring, honest feedback so they try to bake in something “bad” between two compliments. But ultimately it’s how you feel in the environment. Do you know how you affect people? Do you feel good about yourself and the other person when they offer feedback? Do you understand which of your behaviours the person is talking about?

M: How do you develop professionally and how do you develop your relationships in such environments?

V: Again we’re back to soliciting and offering feedback and by doing so leading by example. But that’s the relationship perspective. From a professional perspective I’ll ask specific questions to the groups I coach or we’ll do evaluations of our work together. I won’t ask them to evaluate me personally, I’ll ask them to evaluate our collaboration.

I also look at if we’ve reached the goals we’ve set up to accomplish. In workshops it’s also quite easy to ask the groups in the end for feedback about the workshop e.g. “What’s one thing that was great?” or “What’s one thing you wished we’d had time for?” or that we had skipped, or that I should do differently next time.

Viktor Cessan is an Agile Coach and has for the past 6 years helped companies consciously design organisations where high performing teams can emerge. He coaches entire organisations and development teams. Some of the companies he’s worked for with are Avanza Bank, Spotify, H&M, Telenor, Absolut Vodka and many more. Keep track of Viktors work at Cessan.se and on Twitter.

Check out the second interview here: https://agileandchange.com/gathering-valuable-feedback-for-your-growth-pt-2-marcin-konkel-8f74a1d59012

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Marcin Konkel

Marcin Konkel

I write about hyper-productive teams and focused organisations where people and products flourish. I also shoot documentary work at https://marcinkonkel.com