In many organizations, once or twice per year (or sometimes more often), employees receive a questionnaire asking them to provide feedback for their co-workers. After collecting feedback, it is incorporated into overall performance reviews and delivered to the employees, usually by their manager. This practice is widespread and has been around for decades, and for a good reason. Feedback sessions are a powerful tool for improving team engagement and performance when done right.
It might be tricky to do it right, though. It is not uncommon to hear complaints that these sessions are bureaucratic, stressful, time-consuming, and provide little value. In this post, we’ll talk about finding that delicate balance — how to get the most out of feedback sessions and avoid the annoying or even harmful parts of it. We’ll focus on developers first, but most of the advice is generic and applies to other team roles.
How people collaborate may be obvious in smaller teams, but it becomes more complicated as organizations grow. Sometimes, people receive requests for feedback about teammates with whom they didn't work much, and therefore they can't provide meaningful information. We should avoid such situations since they are a waste of time and a source of confusion.
Ideally, we should select feedback peers based not on assumptions (like, these two folks are in the same team, they must have worked together) but on facts — that there were really tasks or projects on which people collaborated. Teamplify helps to do exactly that. It analyzes data in task tracking systems, code repositories, video conferencing software, and meeting calendars, and suggests feedback peers based on collaboration data.
More accurate peer selection speeds up feedback sessions, reduces bias, and minimizes the risks of asking the wrong people.
In theory, the more feedback we collect for each person, the better, but it has a practical limit. Writing quality feedback takes effort. If people have to do too much of it, they become annoyed and exhausted, and the quality of their feedback may deteriorate.
Common advice on the internet is that the optimal number of feedback peers is up to 5, or sometimes up to 10 in special cases, and we think it makes sense. If you're unsure how many peers you should ask, no more than five is probably best.
Teamplify makes it easy to take care of that. When you create a feedback session, you can see that everyone is covered and also that no one is overloaded with too many feedback requests, and make adjustments if necessary.
For a manager, it might be tempting to ask their subordinates to evaluate each other on some scale. It starts with the assumption that performance evaluation must be based on facts and that people who work closely are better informed. They may be better informed indeed, but it doesn't mean they can provide helpful evaluations.
First, people are often reluctant to give negative feedback. It doesn't help them personally but can ruin their relationships with colleagues and, eventually, their own careers. As a result, overly positive evaluations are very common. Even if people do have negative feedback, they sometimes prefer to give it informally rather than report it to their manager.
Second, performance evaluation is a skill that takes years to master. Managers must have this skill since it's their responsibility and an important part of their job, but it would be a risky assumption to think that other people in the team can also do it well.
If you’re a manager or a team lead, it’s better if you ask for facts and opinions, and make evaluations yourself.
Examples are essential for making reasonable judgments. Let’s say you asked Bob to provide feedback about Alice, and he answered this:
Alice is a very productive developer.
How helpful is that? Well, not much, probably. Maybe she is a very productive developer indeed, or maybe Bob is just trying to be nice. So, what if we ask Bob to provide an example?
Alice is a very productive developer. For example, she completed the “Catalog Filters” feature in less than two weeks, which is impressive.
Okay, now we have something! This example puts Bob’s feedback into perspective so that we can better understand what an achievement looks like for him. If Bob struggles to provide an example, that might also mean something. Human memory is not perfect, and sometimes we honestly believe in things that aren’t actually true. Asking for an example helps to identify such situations and minimize bias.
Finding examples can be challenging, especially when people need to provide feedback that covers long periods. It's not a surprise. Sometimes, we forget what we were doing a few months ago, not to speak about others! This is the reason why we added an option in Teamplify to see what people were working on right on the feedback form page:
And even with that, providing examples takes extra time. You can make it easier for your respondents if you specifically state that you don't need as many examples as possible, and that in most cases 1-2 should be enough to illustrate a point.
People would say different things based on who their listeners are. One-on-one conversations are usually more relaxed, but public speaking is the opposite — more stressful . When you’re doing feedback sessions, make sure that everyone on the team has a clear understanding of how it works.
The picture above shows the most common scenario — a manager collects 360° feedback in private. Then, once all feedback is collected, the manager writes and delivers their own review, which summarizes everything learned and includes an evaluation and recommendations from the manager.
Feedback is a sensitive topic, and it's in everyone's interest to avoid misunderstandings and confusion. Before starting a feedback session, take a moment to remind everyone about the rules of how it works. It'll greatly help if you have it in writing, for example, in the organization wiki.
Speaking of the "who can see my feedback," Teamplify makes it crystal clear — right on the feedback collection form, every respondent can see with whom their feedback will be shared:
How organizations evaluate their employees' performance is crucial to their long-term strategy. Feedback sessions, when done right, can be extremely helpful to achieve better results.
Let's quickly recap what you could do to avoid common pitfalls:
And that’s it for today! If you have something to say on this topic — please post your comments on Twitter.