By Gladys Winkler Docourt | 3 minutes reading time
We recently had the opportunity to attend different workshops where agile team members were invited to give feedback to each other on their performance and the achievement of their goals. Even within agile teams, it isn’t easy to share critical feedback, one of the pillars of agility.
These workshops, called Team Mastery, take place throughout the year at regular intervals based on the pace of Program Increment (PI). Then, at the end of the year, everyone gets feedback on their progress over the last few months, both in terms of hard and soft skills, and an evaluation of their performance and the achievement of their goals. All these teams regularly practice feedback, we expected to see constructive feedback, sometimes more critical remarks, active participation from everyone, in short: energy and enthusiasm. However, the results turned out to be more nuanced. Here are some of our observations and conclusions.
Scrum master: an essential role
Even in agile teams, which tend to be self-managing, the role of the scrum master remains essential. The facilitation skills of scrum masters allow everyone to express themselves, to actively participate, and to be fully aware of the objectives of the meeting. It’s therefore important that scrum masters continue to learn new facilitation skills and techniques, that can influence the group dynamics. Careful preparation also makes sense for a ceremony like the Team Mastery. Mutual evaluation is often new and unusual, so scrum masters need to be particularly sensitive and supportive.
Overall performance / individual performance
The team performance is the result of the performance of each individual. However, we frequently noticed during the workshops we attended that the link between the individual, the team, and the organisation wasn’t made. It’s fundamental to always put performance in context so that the employees can see how they contribute to the achievement of the common ambition. Visualising team and company objectives facilitates the link between the feedback given to each individual and the individual's contribution to the overall objectives.
Even in agile teams, it can be difficult to provide feedback for improvement and therefore more critical. The fear of causing tension within the team and creating a negative climate outweighs the desire to help colleagues progress. One solution is to use specific examples rather than very general statements that are taken out of context; this facilitates understanding and avoids tensions. At the same time, scrum masters should be trained and equipped with conflict management skills to enable team members to be critical while maintaining a positive mindset.
Finding the right format
On the other hand, such workshops can be lengthy and may not add much value to the team. Team members who are not directly involved in the feedback may become bored and lose focus and engagement. The format and facilitation should therefore be carefully thought through so that everyone finds added value in the time spent in the workshop. So that Team Mastery workshops remain devoted to common topics, rather than a team meeting, bilateral feedback could be an interesting alternative. The scrum masters we accompanied also shared this viewpoint and decided to use Pulse Peer Feedback to make the Team Mastery Workshops more productive.
Regular practice of two-way feedback
Regular practice of two-way feedback also contributes to the acceptance of more critical comments, without jeopardising a positive mindset. The person receiving the feedback becomes more accustomed to both positive and critical comments understanding the meaning and motivation behind them, and thereby helping them to progress more quickly. In addition, it's also easier to regulate emotions in a smaller and more personal environment. This can enable the person providing feedback to be more open with areas for improvement or growth.
However, two-way feedback is still very partial. There are tools, such as Peer Feedback and other 360° evaluation tools, to get relevant feedback from several peers. This gives you a broader overview of your own performance. Peer feedback is exactly the choice these teams have made to take their feedback practice a step further to improve their individual and global performance.