One to One Feedback at REA

Continuous improvement and change is one of the constants at REA. Hence it comes to no surprise that we also think about ways on how to further improve our culture. We have many people who are passionate about implementing new ways of working together. They come up with ideas and experiment on them within their teams. This is a great way to pivot and see which of these ideas work, how they work best and which ones don’t work at all. One of these cultural experiments was the so-called “Speedback”, which evolved from an experiment in one team to a ritual in many teams. Read about our Speedback sessions @REA in Ilya & Greg’s post.

– Victoria Schiffer

One to one speed feedback sessions help to build trust in a team, and contribute to creating an environment of learning. Trust is important because it enables the team to have quality conversations, for example about contentious topics. An environment of learning enables teammates to grow in areas relevant to their personal development goals. Helping individuals achieve mastery is a great way to keep motivation high. Below are the key properties of the feedback sessions we run in some teams at REA.

Peer-to-Peer

Our feedback sessions are peer to peer. Traditionally at REA team members would have one to one feedback sessions with their line managers. Speed feedback sessions however are run between team members rather than management. That way each person can receive feedback from people they work with directly on a day to day basis. This makes the feedback specific and relevant.

Speed Feedback

Sessions usually take between 10 and 20 minutes per pair of participants. Keeping the sessions brief encourages participants to focus on key points, raising one or two points during each session. This prevents the receiving party from being overwhelmed by the incoming information. Keeping the one to one sessions brief enables team mates to have numerous sessions in a short period of time. For example if we book 3 meeting rooms for 30 minutes, it would allow for 9 ten minutes long sessions. Having multiple back-to-back feedback sessions allows a participant to validate a given piece of feedback, or get different perspectives on a particular event.

Regular and Frequent

Teams that run peer speed feedback sessions, run them bi-weekly. A regular and frequent schedule helps teammates build a better relationship with one another. Regular cadence of feedback gets teammates in a habit of discussing issues that come up in day to day operations. That makes it easier to address conflict when it arises. Another benefit of regular feedback is that it encourages people to reflect often and improve how they and their teammates work.

Positive Frame

When participants give feedback we ask them to frame it in terms of “strengthening confidence” or “improving effectiveness”.

Statements that strengthen confidence are genuine compliments about something your colleague does well. These statements serve as a positive reinforcement of behaviours. At times they make your team-mate know that their contribution is valued, and at other times they help them discover strengths they did not know they had.

The mindset of “improving effectiveness” helps phrase difficult feedback in a constructive way. Please refer to the example below for details.

Example “Improving Effectiveness” Type of Feedback

Sue the tech lead has been late at standups for the past three days. Bob – the team’s Senior QA initially thought about how to bring this up: “Sue, you don’t respect the team’s time. You should really care more.” However Bob spent some time thinking about how to phrase this feedback with a mindset of improving effectiveness. This is how the actual conversation went.

Bob: Is it a good time to give you some feedback?
Sue: Yes, sure.
Bob: The things I’d like to discuss are aimed at making us work better as a team.
Sue: That sounds good.
Bob: I’ll start with sharing an observation. Please correct me if I’m wrong. The past 3 days, you have been late for stand-up.
Sue: I was.
Bob: I felt unhappy about that. There was an important announcement yesterday about a rescheduled project retrospective. You ended up missing that retrospective. I think your input there would have been invaluable (pause).
Sue: Yes, I was quite sad about missing that retro. There were a few points I wanted to raise and discuss with the team.
Bob: So what was going on for you?
Sue: My husband was away this week and I had to take our kids to school.
Bob: I see. Knowing that I would have liked to have your input, could you please inform me next time if you are unable to make it for the standup?
Sue: Sure.
Bob: Great.
Sue: Thanks for bringing it up.

Sample Discussion Points

Sometimes it is possible to come across situations when you do not have specific feedback for the person you are in a session with. For example, you haven’t worked together over the past two weeks. In this case we found it useful to use the feedback session to discuss things such as:

  • Career development conversations
  • Working relationship health check & discussion of how to make it better
  • How can we support others on the team?
  • Bouncing ideas relating to people / process / tech, before a retro
  • Non-judging observations, interesting things you noticed about your feedback partner
  • How happy is your feedback pair, are they happy doing what they are doing?
  • Is there anything I can do to make working together more enjoyable?
  • Why haven’t we worked together over the past two weeks?

How to Get Started

We have introduced speed feedback to the interested teams by running a brief information session, then scheduling the one to one sessions a couple of days later. This gives the participants time to digest the information on how to give feedback. It also gives time to think about what to discuss during the one to one sessions.

Variations

As with all agile frameworks, you use what works best for your team. Within REA there are many ways in which various teams give and receive feedback. You might want to play around with different durations, frequencies, pre-scheduled vs. ad hoc.

Conclusion

We found running one to one feedback sessions to be incredibly useful for creating strong teams. It worked best when feedback was peer to peer, held on a regular basis and when the participants used a positive mindset.

We received many positive responses in relation to the effects of the feedback sessions from teams who ran them. The practice of speed feedback has spread to many teams within the organisation. We encourage you to give it a try and observe the effects it has on your team.

We are still learning and improving our feedback process. Thus we are interested in hearing about your experiences. What have you learnt by running peer-to-peer feedback in your teams?

Authors

Ilya Paripsa & Greg Dziemidowicz