28. November 2016

How and why to introduce a feedback culture into a diverse team

Christoph Meise

Teamwork in Software Development is essential. Most likely this is the reason there are so many development teams around. All of them deliver. Some better, some worse. I do want to get into one aspect of a good collaborating team. I was fortunate enough to spend my time with a Berlin located international team operating for an internationally acting company. Throughout the time I spent there we were eleven different nationalities. Multiply that mixed cultural background with a mixed set of personalities and you get quite a crucible of effects.
One of those effects showed up the other day. I was feeling some kind of tension. Partly this tension was induced from the outside, but it was also self inflicted. Why? Well, conflicts most of the time arise from missing communication. Or worse communication perceived in an unintended manner. In this case it was feedback that didn't happen. Not surprisingly in our retrospective the topic of  came up again.

How to create a feedback culture in diverse teams – learn more about it on our blog!

The company conducts feedback workshops which is a good foundation. Nevertheless something kept people from just doing it. Part of the solution in our team was for me to provide feedback trainings. So I prepared a 10 minute theoretical part and also some exercise feedback for another twenty minutes. Around 30 minutes spent on this topic for each person was not too much.

The Protocol

  • Prepare a feedback burger (a wish wrapped in two positive aspects). Seriously. Thinking of and preparing positive aspects of a colleague creates appreciation that can be sensed honestly. And ultimately positive aspects open your feedback's recipient to acceptance for your wishes. Just don't overdo it.
  • Ask your colleague for some spare minutes. Don't be hasty. Let a comfortable situation emerge.
  • Provide your burger. Expect a "Thanks". Nothing more on first sight. There are actually several possible outcomes. One could be: "Thanks, I need to think, I'll get back to you" whereas on the other  side of the spectrum a discussion in wishes and changes could arise. And of course everything in between.
  • As a recipient do not interrupt. Just listen and close the feedback by thanking the provider. Not instantly reacting and coming up with a possible solution is absolutely fine - though please do not ignore the feedback mid- to longterm.
  • After having found a base for a feedback situation deviate from the protocol as you're both comfortable with. This protocol is no hard rule. It's there to ease the situation.

The Execution

"Please provide feedback to me, a team member or any other person. Everything will remain in this room". Easy task right? Actually I allowed providing feedback to the such super villains as the Joker or the Penguin. Nobody was doing that though. But using the correct words is not easy. Not to be too offending but stating your point was a challenge for many.
So we practiced. My team members were very patient but also willing to explore and reflect on what some phrases or words mean. Sometimes they said the same sentence several times always a bit different. This works the same way in German as it does English. Which is necessary considering the international set up.
During the practice I also witnessed all kinds of reaction:

  • I cannot talk about positive aspects - it makes me feel uncomfortable in general
  • I cannot hear anybody talking positively about me - I feel uncomfortable
  • I have to excuse instantly when I say something negative
  • I do not trust, when I hear positive things
  • I need my feedback straight to the face

Those are very human reactions depending where you are coming from. Thankfully, the training provided a frame to address them.


The trainings were very well received. Everybody was curious and in the end thankful for their very individual session. Of some I know that they took the training as a starting point. Now combining the general intention of the company to have a feedback culture, the team is set up pretty well.
Nevertheless in the individual sessions I realized how important it is to have a common ground for such diverse a team. Feedback is not easy. Let that sink in. Maybe you are surprised, because it is not for you, but I can assure you it is for others. But there is hope. Feedback can be practiced. The easiest way to practice feedback to implement it as some kind of rituals - being it in face to face feedbacks during or after a retrospective or even extreme forms like dedicated speed feedback rounds. Try out the Kudo Box for positive feedback.
I am curious: How diverse is your team? Do you have a healthy feedback culture? Do you practice? Do you need to care? How do you do it?

Christoph Meise

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