At Feedback Labs, we are always looking for ways to walk the feedback talk. After all, if we’re going to help others improve their feedback practice it’s important that we’ve wrestled with our own. Lately we’ve been working on how we can strengthen our internal feedback loops – the feedback Feedback Labs team members give to each other, as colleagues, managers and peers. We’ve been experimenting with an online tool, Office Vibe, that lets each of us give feedback on different aspects of our work and team culture each week. We’re adjusting our team meetings to leave time for discussion of the trends Office Vibe reflects back to us, and recommitting to giving each other good feedback. Here are 3 things we’re learning from the process:
- Pleasant surprises motivate – Office Vibe is set up a little like a game, with cute cartoons and icons to click. That helps make the quick 5 questions it asks each week feel easy and fun to answer. My favourite feature though is the one that lets you give a quick piece of feedback to a colleague – you can type in a way that they help you do your work and they receive an email with your feedback. Receiving a brief email that lets me know someone appreciated when I was proactive about a project, or helped organize important meetings, is a nice pick-me-up during the day. That it’s unexpected and unsolicited makes it feel, to me at least, genuine and heartfelt.
- Balance objective and subjective – The most helpful feedback tool I’ve ever come across is also the most simple: “When you……I feel…….” The idea is that you fill in the first blank with an objective action – when you asked me how my weekend was. When you reschedule meetings the day of. When you delivered the report I asked you for early. And then you fill in the second blank with the effect you feel that action had on you – I felt supported. I have a harder time organizing my schedule. I felt I could trust you with important work. This simple construction means you’re speaking to the only two things you can know with any certainty – observable actions and the way they made you personally feel. I find this helps keep feedback in the constructive realm, even when it’s on a difficult topic.
- Rigor wins – Office Vibe comes with a dashboard that helps us see trends in the feedback our team is giving. The trick is to be rigorous about using it! In months where we’ve been rigorous about discussing the dashboard as a team and leaving time for the exchange of feedback in person we’ve been able to make adjustments based on the feedback we’ve given. Sometimes we feel too busy to make the time for those conversations – but are trying to make it into a rigorous habit.
Feedback is a practice that takes repetition and dedication.
We haven’t figured everything out when it comes to our internal feedback culture. But so far we’re doing a good job of using the Office Vibe tool every week, which is a good sign that our habits are changing.
And the trends in the feedback have helped us realize we need to focus more on our team’s wellness – how often we take breaks, exercise, eat lunch away from our desks, etc.
The next few months will tell us a lot about how our feedback practice is evolving. And in the meantime, we’d love to hear what practices you’re using!
As Senior Manager of Research and Learning Megan helps to set the learning objects and agenda for Feedback Labs by helping determine the right questions to ask, and how we should ask them. She manages the blog and other writing, and leads research and experimentation.
A systems design engineer by training, Megan has over a decade of experience promoting adaptive implementation in international development. She lived for five years in Malawi, working with Engineers Without Borders Canada to help national and local government officers experiment and develop new ways to improve water and sanitation service delivery. As Co-Director of EWB’s program in Malawi, Megan focused on finding ways to strengthen formal and informal feedback loops in the Malawian water and sanitation sector. She firmly believes that helping information travel within a system is a key prerequisite for learning and iterative improvement.
Upon her return to Canada Megan took on the management of Engineers Without Borders’ incubation portfolio. In that role, Megan mentored and supported early stage social enterprises working to transform service delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, Megan worked with the Global Delivery Initiative secretariat at the World Bank to promote a common language with which to explore service delivery challenges and solutions. Megan is an Action Canada fellow and advisor to Fail Forward, and cheers with futility for the Toronto Blue Jays. She is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.