October 18, 2019
Practical Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback
At sophilabs, software development is a team effort, and we appreciate the diverse perspectives our team members bring to the table. True collaboration requires frequent and honest communication, and our culture of continuous improvement means that feedback is always welcome. However, giving helpful feedback and accepting feedback from your peers are skills that involve constant honing and practice. We decided to share our techniques for the benefit of other teams looking to learn and grow together.
Giving Your Teammates Effective Feedback
Sharing a constructive comment can feel a little tricky, especially when you're not used to giving feedback. Following these tips will help you provide feedback in a way that benefits everyone.
Feedback is most helpful when it's relevant, so don't wait weeks to let your teammate know about a concern. However, if you're addressing a situation that has made you upset, be sure you give yourself some time to cool off so you can approach the issue in a level-headed way.
At sophilabs, our team members provide each other with written feedback every other month as part of our continuous improvement feedback cycle. In addition, our culture of open communication encourages team members to check in with each other often and share suggestions promptly.
Be mindful of context.
Not every meeting is appropriate for giving feedback, so before you speak up, consider whether sharing your thoughts on a teammate's work is conducive to the goals of that particular meeting. Depending on the issue, it might make more sense to write your teammate individually on Slack or find a time to talk to them privately.
This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind as you share your feedback with a team member. Give concrete examples so your teammate can clearly understand the problem and see where they can improve. Vague or unsupported opinions tend to be counterproductive, confusing the recipient or putting them on the defensive.
Focus on the issue, not the person.
Frame your feedback so that it zeros in on the work at hand rather than the team member. Refrain from passing judgement, and make sure your tone is supportive rather than accusatory. It can help to lead with I-statements, which open a dialogue, instead of you-statements, which tend to assign blame (i.e., "I think there's a more efficient way to approach this problem" and not "Your solution doesn't make sense").
Keep your critique constructive.
While it's important for the recipient to understand why something is an issue, it's not productive to fixate on the negative aspects of someone's work. Say only what will help your teammate improve. When possible, share your knowledge on the subject or offer to lend them a hand.
When you give feedback, make it a conversation. The recipient might have questions or want to explain their choices. Give them a chance to share their viewpoint so you can work together towards an ideal solution.
Don't forget the power of genuine praise.
Recognizing a job well done is just as important as helping your teammates see where they can do better. When team members know their strengths, they're more likely to use those skills with confidence, come up with creative solutions, and leverage what they're good at to improve their weaker areas. Not to mention, praise helps individuals feel valued and builds positive relationships on the team.
Just like constructive feedback, praise is most meaningful when it's timely and specific. Make sure you congratulate your teammates promptly when they achieve something, and mention why their particular contributions are valuable to the team.
At sophilabs, we encourage team members to recognize each other's accomplishments using the Praise tool on Small Improvements, the platform where we provide written feedback. We then give these stellar team members an additional shout-out at our weekly town hall meeting so they know their hard work is appreciated by the entire company.
As we know, feedback on a development team is a two-way street. Let's now take a look at how to appreciate and respond to the feedback your teammates give you.
Making the Most of the Feedback You Receive
It can be hard to accept constructive criticism, especially if we think our performance defines our talent, intelligence, and abilities. In order to actually benefit from feedback, we may need to first change the way we view ourselves and our mistakes and failures.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, has done extensive research on how our attitudes about ourselves impact our motivation, behavior, and achievements. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she describes how having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset affects how individuals handle challenges.
Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their intelligence, talent, and other personal qualities are fixed traits; in their view, they were born with innate, static abilities. People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid challenges, for if they don't succeed, this would "prove" that they are not actually intelligent or talented. They'll often take criticism personally or ignore it altogether, afraid that this feedback might expose them as a "failure."
Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand, views their intelligence, talent, and other personal qualities as things they can develop. They believe they can improve anything about themselves with enough effort and practice. People with a growth mindset embrace challenges, knowing that their success or failure does not define their abilities. They see constructive feedback as an opportunity to learn, a way to gather information that will help them continue growing. Neuroscience backs up the growth mindset, demonstrating that our brains are always changing and capable of forming new connections. 1
A growth mindset is crucial to both accepting feedback and actively using it to improve your skills. For many of us, cultivating a growth mindset is an ongoing process, but like anything else, it gets easier with practice. Below you'll find our tips for how to integrate a growth mindset when your teammates give you feedback, as well as some other pieces of advice to ensure feedback is productive and team-building.
Consider the bigger picture.
One of the most common challenges when receiving constructive criticism is recognizing that it's not personal. It can be helpful to take a step back and look at how the issue at hand is connected to the larger goals of the team and the needs of the customer. Putting things in perspective can make it easier to be objective about your own work and clearly understand why something needs improvement.
Appreciate your teammate's point of view.
Receiving feedback on your work is extremely valuable, as another pair of eyes can spot key aspects you may have overlooked. Make sure you thank your teammate for their input. Even if you don't entirely agree with what they think, consider how you would like to be listened to when you raise an issue, and respond accordingly. Empathy and understanding are the foundation of solid relationships on a team, and it's important to keep the channel open to mutual communication and feedback.
Accept constructive feedback as an opportunity to grow.
A growth mindset comes in especially handy here. When you know that any mistakes or shortcomings in your work do not reflect your level of intelligence (which is malleable anyway), receiving feedback becomes a great chance to learn. This shift in perspective makes it much easier to welcome feedback and take advantage of the insights it offers.
Act on the areas you need to improve.
The last and most crucial step in receiving feedback is to turn what you learn into action. Seek educational opportunities, model the work habits of exemplary team members, and ask for advice or assistance when you need it. As you work on your skills, track your progress and see where you can make your approach more effective.
At sophilabs, everyone receives clear action points from their direct manager once a month so they know how to improve their performance. In addition, we facilitate peer-to-peer mentoring by keeping an updated list of "gurus," members of our team who are experts in skills and technologies that interest them. Anyone can request help or a code review from a guru when they're facing a challenging problem.
Dedicated Team Players
We believe that what we can achieve together is greater than what we can accomplish individually. When we're striving to reach a common goal, it's essential to help each other do our best work. Giving quality feedback and accepting and acting on the feedback you receive are integral parts of effective teamwork. We hope our tips are useful to other teams and individual developers who want to take advantage of what honest feedback can offer. If you like what you read and are curious to find out more about how we work at sophilabs, check out our Playbook.
Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (New York: Ballantine Books, 2016). ↩