Feedback is a Gift (and It’s My Birthday!)

If your line of work involves solving complex problems then you probably know by now that you can’t solve the problem alone. That means you’re going to need to get some feedback. At this point you also probably know whether your company values feedback. Luckily for us, I’ve heard the expression “Feedback is a gift!” enough times to know that we do value feedback. However, I’m struck by how difficult it actually is to get good feedback even when everyone knows it’s so important. How do we ensure that everyone we need is getting a chance to give feedback? How do we ensure that we are getting enough diverse thought to avoid groupthink? If you’ve found the feedback process painful despite everyone saying how important it is, then you’ll find our system a step in the right direction.

I think the best way to understand our current feedback system is to see how it’s evolved. To save us both some time, I’m not going to start at the very beginning of our feedback journey but I’ll pick it up where our process was essentially this:

Stage #1: Feedback Circle

  1. Gather everyone needed for feedback (a diverse group from all different departments) in one room at the same time. 2) Visually present and walk everyone through all of the content that you need feedback on. 3) Go around the room and ask everyone one by one to respond. This system worked for quite some time, because to be honest it’s not that bad. If your company is at this point consider yourself in a great place, because you’re accomplishing the most important concept for feedback. And that is:

If you want to actually get feedback, gather a diverse group of minds in one meeting together and give them time in the meeting to give you feedback. The key word that I emphasized was time. We discovered that if you don’t set out a specific time for feedback that everyone is just too busy to take the time.

While this method of asking everyone in the room one by one to share their thoughts produced feedback, we started to see some problems with it. We realized that a lot of people were succumbing to groupthink. (They were subconsciously agreeing with other people’s thoughts around them, especially if it was someone they normally agree with.)

Stage #2: Feedback Form

So we decided to switch up how we were collecting the feedback at the meeting. Instead of going around in a circle and everyone giving feedback one by one, we created a simple anonymous google form to gather all of the feedback. This form would be available while we were going through the mockups as well as after the presentation (while we fielded some clarifying questions.) This form produced not only more volume of feedback, as everyone was able to submit multiple thoughts throughout the presentation, but a more diverse set of feedback, completely eliminated groupthink.. The two downsides that we immediately noticed were that 1) the form doesn’t provide any possible time for collaboration of thought and 2) that there was no way to respond to a person’s feedback so it made them feel like their feedback wasn’t being heard.

Stage #3: Form then Discuss

Our next experimentation to improve our process came when we decided to try discussing some of the feedback during the meeting. While the feedback was coming in through the form we tried to go through all of it and try to come up with some themes or trends. We would then bring these up to the larger group. This worked alright, but not as well as we hoped. It still didn’t really solve any of the problems that we were having with the form. Basically what would happen is that we would scramble to try to make sense of all of the feedback and then we would give a basic overview where no one was really able to respond to any of the comments.

Stage #4: Form then Visual Board

Our final version (or should I say our most current version) works where we use the form during the meeting to get feedback and then immediately after we post all of the feedback on a visual board. We use Trello. (Which is an incredible free online tool if you’re not aware of it, go check it out.) This board allows us to assign faces to all of the feedback so that everyone can see who is submitting the responses. After we put all of the comments on cards we then go one by one and respond to all of the different thoughts. This might seem like a lot of work, but it was actually very useful. Going through all of the comments really makes you think about everyone is saying. You can’t just nod your head and let that comment go. You really need to justify your response. It also lets everyone know that you value their feedback. This was particularly important seeing as one of the biggest negative criticisms of the form was that it felt like the feedback was going into a blackhole and their voices were not being heard. Finally it lets everyone see all of the feedback and all of the responses. It even notifies who gave the feedback what we are doing with it.

So where did we go from here?

While our current system of using the form and then visually presenting the feedback has plenty of pros, there is still one problem that we haven’t quite worked out. While the board is a good visual representation of the feedback we were hoping that it would also spark others to talk about the feedback and thus fix the lack of collaborative thought. However, this just didn’t happen. So we’re still scratching our heads on how to make that component work. Regardless, we feel like we’re in a much better place through this we’ve discovered the 4 most crucial aspects of the feedback process are:

  1. You need to get everyone in a room and make the meeting about feedback if you want everyone to actually give you feedback.
  2. You need to eliminate groupthink. We’ve found the best way is by using an online form.
  3. You need to make sure everyone feels they are being heard by responding to their feedback. This also forces you to truly go through and think about each piece of feedback instead of blowing it off.
  4. You need to still allow for group collaboration to happen so that feedback builds off of each other. Right now our method does the first three components, really well. It’s just the last one that we are trying to figure out.

Finally I would love for anyone to leave comments on how you think we should proceed or if there are any other thoughts you have on this topic. You kno feedback is a gift. :)