Like most start ups, the Weirdly team are a bunch of strong personalities. We care about what we do, and are in an environment where we have to make fast decisions, and be confident in them.
Working too fast and too hard, it’s too easy to lose touch with the rest of the team. This can make it really hard when it comes time to pop your head up and give (or receive) feedback.
Silos make giving and receiving feedback impossible
When you’ve been head down, bum up working on a project, getting feedback in the 11th hour – however necessary and constructive – can feel like a personal attack. And that’s not useful to anyone.
You definitely intend to hear any critique with an open mind but it’s still pretty rough. Inevitably your hackles come up and you spend all your energy defending the work, rather than using the feedback to make it better.
It sucks for everyone – we’ve all been there.
The thing is, a lot of the conflict is avoidable if you build a culture where giving feedback is a daily occurrence. In that culture, you don’t just get feedback in the 11th hour, you get it in the 1st, the 2nd, and the 3rd.
The point here is that giving and receiving feedback is as hard as it is necessary. And from our experience, the key to making it feel less difficult is to do it more – to make it part of your everyday.
That means forcing yourself out of your silos and getting your sticky beaks into other people’s business. Sounds exhausting? It really doesn’t have to be. This isn’t about adding process or bureaucracy. It can be a casual check-in around the coffee machine, or walking back from the toilet where you sharing the approach you’re thinking of taking, or the work you’ve done so far. For the sake of a few minutes here and there, you’ll be getting and giving iterative feedback. And that means fewer do-overs, fewer fights and a finished project that’s fit for everyone’s purpose – not just yours.
Creating a culture of feedback
Here are our tried and tested tips for making useful feedback a way of life.
1. Tell people mostly good stuff.
Remember that “feedback” can and should be positive too. Creating a self-sustaining culture of feedback means giving more positive feedback than negative. This is just basic human psychology. If it’s all negative, a “feedback sessions” can be seen as “beat up time” – hackles rise, and defenses are drawn. Jim Whitehurst the CEO of Red Hat suggests a ratio of 9:1 positive to negative, even though research suggests a 3:1 ratio. It builds trust – your team believe they’re on the same side – so the sporadic negative notes are taken as constructive, not an attack.
2. Open up, man
Silos. They’re death to culture. They fire up people’s tribal instincts and stop that important feedback loop in its tracks. Breaking down silos is a big, big job and it starts from the top. Megan Rozo and Brent Gleeson suggest that is all comes down to having a unified goal – again this turns departments into partners working towards the same outcomes.
3. Hang out heaps.
Creating opportunities for your teams to hang out makes it far more likely they’ll start that natural checking-in process. A regular team lunch day, or a policy that bans eating at desk is a good start. The, consider your office: do you have a common staff room, or does each department keep to themselves? Do people work shut away in offices, or are they working in open environments. Much-mocked team-building exercises are generally so ineffective because they’re just one day out from a culture that is otherwise not facilitating collaboration and de-siloing. The key is to build this stuff into your everyday work.
This is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in startup land. There are only seven of us here at Weirdly, yet even we’ve descended into a good bout of feedback fisticuffs. When we follow our own steps, things get much easier, we like each other more, and what we’re producing markedly improves.
Feedback can be the lifeblood or the death of your business – and your culture is what makes the difference.
If you want to recruit more people who are better at giving and taking feedback, use a Weirdly quiz as part of your hiring process – it’ll take 30secs to set up.