Having a culture of individual feedback is an important part of growing awesome teams, yet for many teams I work with giving feedback is in the category of “something we want to get better at”. Speedbacking is a simple process to help people practice and nurture a culture of honest feedback.
I designed this process to help students at Dev Academy and have found it crucial to creating a high performance learning environment. I’ve run it with dozens of groups of 8–20 people and find it a crucial culture building tool, as well as good skills development in its own right.
Here’s how I host a Speedbacking session:
Setup (people) :
- A group of 8–20 people
- Usually the session is just promoted as ‘Feedback’ or sometimes ‘Speedbacking, getting better at feedback together’
- The more the people have worked together the better but limited team experience works too. This could be long time team mates, students who have been studying together for a few weeks, or retreat participants who have gotten to know each other over a few days.
- Each person will need some paper and something to write with
- You will need a time keeping device
- Ideally I would start the group in a circle but it’s fine to start with a presentation layout and have everyone facing you
- You want to have chairs that are easy to rearrange in to two rows with no tables or desks in the way
The main points that I hit to set the tone
- Feedback is a skill. The more you do it, the better you get. Today is a practice session to help us explore that skill while hopefully giving and receiving some useful feedback on the way.
- In a few minutes you are going to give and receive feedback to everyone else in this room. You may be wishing you were somewhere else right now, and I can assure you that is a very common reaction. That’s one reason why we often don’t give or receive enough feedback, we have barriers where it seems easier to avoid it. I can also assure you that by the end of the session you will very likely feel differently than you do now. I find participant’s reactions vary from “that was much better than I expected” to “that was really awesome”.
- Before we jump in to the practice session, let’s go through some key ideas
If we are short on time then I run through these pretty quickly, otherwise I like to leave space for questions and discussions as we go through the ideas.
Feedback is a skill, it takes practice
If I were to ask you to list your top 20 skills right now, do you think giving feedback would be on the list? What about receiving feedback? While it isn’t common for us to perceive them as skills they absolutely are. Especially receiving feedback, it takes skill to filter out your feedbackers biases, it takes skill to distract your ego to hear challenging feedback, it takes skill to ignore feedback that may be true but isn’t useful right now. The more you practice them and the more consciously you practice them, the better you will get.
[example of the worst feedback you ever gave / received] I often tell a story about one of my business partners who asked me for some feedback on working with him. I thought really hard about it and then mentioned that I hadn’t seen him actively keeping Xero (our accounting software) up to date or using it to generate many reports and he might want to upskill on financial management and using numbers to drive the business. He gently reminded me that he had an economics degree, was very comfortable with financial management and the only reason he hadn’t been updating Xero was because the business was so small he could keep it all in his head. I’d completely forgotten about his financial background! The worst feedback I’ve given, ever.
It’s ok to give feedback that’s off the mark, it’s ok to receive feedback that doesn’t feel right. Giving good feedback is a skill and we’re just practicing here.
Actionable, Specific, Kind
The best way to give good feedback is to make it Actionable, Specific and Kind. (I will often write these words up on a board).
Actionable : Feedback that you can do something about. You’re too short for the basketball team isn’t good feedback.
[Optional question to group: “what are some examples of feedback that is or isn’t actionable?”]
Specific : “The game you played was great” isn’t good feedback, it might make the feedbackee feel better but it won’t help them get better.
[Optional question to group: “what are some examples of feedback that is or isn’t specific?”]
Kind: The purpose of giving feedback is to help the feedbackee, it is an act of generosity. “Here is a list of 10 actionable and specific ways that you suck” isn’t a good approach to feedback.
[Optional question to group: “what are some examples of feedback that is or isn’t kind?”]
[Optional question 2: “what is the difference between kind and nice?”]
Here is where I would give some examples of different feedback and ask the group what they think about them.
Another good thing about ASK is that it is a reminder to checkin with someone before giving them feedback. “I have some feedback about the session you just ran, would you like to hear it”, and being completely ok if the answer is “not right now”. Remember that it takes energy to process feedback well and sometimes “surprise feedback” it isn’t setting your feedbackee for success. Ask first.
Feedback difficulty levels
I find it useful to think of giving and receiving feedback as a game that you can play on multiple difficulty levels. When giving someone feedback in the category “here is something you are great at that you may not be aware of” you are playing at an easier skill level than “here is something I think you can get better at” which is easier than “here is something you did that hurt or disappointed me”.
When playing on harder difficulty levels realise you are getting in to it is a good idea to think carefully about the feedback before hand and realise you are getting in to difficult conversation territory which is another skill entirely.
The reason we give feedback is to help people around us get better every day. It is an act of generosity and service that takes practice and skill. We don’t give feedback to make ourselves feel better, to demonstrate our ability or to make someone else do what we want. Sometimes giving public feedback in a group setting can be a good way to help lots of people learn faster, sometimes it is easier to give or receive feedback in private.
Step 1: prep
- Write up everyone’s name on a white board.
- Give the group 1 minute per person to come up with a piece of feedback for everybody on the list. So if there are 15 people give the group 15 minutes of prep.
- Mention that it can be hard to think of good feedback for people and that’s why we are practicing.
- If you can’t think of any feedback you can share something you appreciate about that person.
- Or you can share your experience of an interaction you recently had. “I don’t know if I have any feedback for you but my experience of the session you ran was…”
- Give them a few minutes notice before the time is up
Step 2: speedback
- Arrange all the chairs into two lines facing each other. I usually have to encourage people to move the chairs closer to the person opposite them.
- You will have 1 minute to give feedback to the person opposite you and then 1 minute for them give you feedback.
- When you’re time is up I’ll raise my hand, if you ever see anyone’s hand in the air, raise your hand and stop talking (my favourite social process for bringing a group to silence
- Everyone on this side (gesture to one row of chairs) go first.
- Time for 60 seconds and then switch pairs
- Time for 60 seconds and then first rotation
- First Rotation
- Get everyone to stand up
- If you have odd numbers then ask everyone to move to the chair to their left
- If there are even numbers ask one person to stay seated (they will stay in that chair for the whole process) and then ask everyone to move into the unoccupied chair to their left
- The rest of the session turns into a timekeeping game of ‘Everyone on the left feedback’, 60 seconds, hand up, ‘Switching’, 60 seconds, hand up, ‘Rotate’.
- After 4 or 5 sessions I find it is good to give people a minute or two to digest and take any notes they wish to.
- Keep going until everyone has speed backed with everyone else, or your time is up.
Step 3: reflection
People are usually buzzing after the speedbacking round and I like to finish off with a circle. Give everyone 2–3 minutes to reflect on the session, make any notes they wish to and then rearrange the group into a circle.
There are two questions I finish with depending on the time remaining a) a tweet of advice to yourself (short version) b) any reflections on the process and a short summary of the feedback you want to action (long version)
I would love to hear your stories
This process is published as part of The Peer Garden learning community, feel free to take the ideas and do what you like with them.
Originally published at joshuavial.com on July 30, 2018.