Getting Actionable Feedback From Your Team

Posted on Dec 12, 2020 - 0 min read

Getting and giving feedback is an incredibly important aspect of being an engineer. More so for an Engineering Manager or any type of lead role where their job is to deliver results and help develop careers.

Most engineers practice some type of feedback loop with their manager. Generally this takes the form of a weekly or bi-weekly check-in. If for some reason you're not already doing this with your team, start doing it _now_. A regular feedback loop is one of the best ways to keep your engineers happy, on track, level them up, and grow as a manager.

Too often I see check-ins and reviews be wasted away where the meeting ventures toward "so, how you doin'?" territory. This doesn't help anyone. Here I’ll outline a routine I've used to ensure that I get and give feedback on a regular cadence, ensure it is feedback you can both act on, and keep track of the progress over time. OK, let's get to it!

The One-to-One Check-in

So you're a people manager and you've been having regular check-ins with your team. Let me ask you something, what did you discuss with each one of them two months ago? How was their morale? Were they excited about the projects they were working on? Were they making progress toward their career goals? What was their biggest blocker? Were they happy with how _you_ were supporting them? If you can't confidently answer these questions you're doing yourself, your team, and frankly your company, a disservice.

Let's go over a simple routine to solicit actionable feedback, raise red flags to your leadership team as soon as you see them, and ensure that your team feels taken care of.

1. Gathering Feedback

In order for check-ins to be successful both you and the engineer must be prepared. Walking into a meeting with no clue of what you'll talk about is a sure way to waste the meeting time. Create a shared document between you and the engineer where you can both add your thoughts and talking points for the meeting. I've used Google Docs and Confluence for this in the past. Really, anything will work so long as you can make it visible to just the engineer and yourself. List out three to five open-ended questions. Some examples:

  • What happened over the past 2 weeks that you're happy about?
  • What happened over the past 2 weeks that you're not so happy about?
  • How could our team be more effective?
  • How do you feel about your velocity over the past 2 weeks?
  • How do you feel about the team's velocity over the past 2 weeks?
  • How can I better support you?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Create a bank of 10-20 of these types of questions that fit your needs or specific situation. Every two weeks pick some new ones from the list and put them at the top of the document. Or perhaps pick the same ones to track progress over time on a specific topic.

2. Reinforcement

Set a weekly reminder for each team member to fill out the document. This could be whatever fits your workflow best; multiple calendar alerts on the one-to-one invite, Slack reminders, email, etc.

The goal here is fill out the document with intent and not rush through it. This will ensure the feedback is as complete as possible, and I've found success with reminding the team to fill it out about one week prior to the check-in.

3. The Discussion

When you finally meet with the engineer, guess what? You now have a ton of stuff to discuss. When I first implemented this strategy my check-ins went from 15 minute coffee walks to 45 minute meaningful conversations. Deep dives into how the team could collaborate better, projects the team wanted to experiment with, or resources I never knew they needed. I was amazed at the level of detail in the feedback I was able to get. This document is also now a historical record for both of you and can be used to inform your six month and yearly reviews.

You can also add an "action items" section to the document (in Confluence these could create Jira tickets) where either you or the engineer can add things to tackle over the next two weeks. When you meet again you can review these items.

This is just one way of soliciting meaningful feedback from your team. Have you tried any other routines? What has worked well for you?

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