When we work on remote teams, we don’t have the chance meetings in the hallway, the day-to-day check-ins, and personal interactions that we may have on co-located teams. In order to build and maintain positive connections, we have to actively schedule a time to evaluate how things are going and how people are feeling.
Understanding how people operate and feel can be challenging on any team and can be particularly difficult on remote teams where behavior is virtually invisible. Because of this, it is essential that remote teams have awareness systems put in place to mitigate various sources of process loss. Regular feedback loops are a powerful tool for measuring team effort and making necessary improvements.
(Note: This isn’t about annual or bi-annual performance reviews, as virtual team consultant Pilar Orti clarifies: “When I think about feedback in an organization, I always picture it as coming from the upper layers in the organizational chart. When I think of feedback on virtual teams, I think of the physiology type of feedback where organs, muscles, neurons, and hormones are constantly talking to each other and affecting what happens next. On virtual teams, we all have to be involved.”)
Tips for giving feedback on virtual teams
- REGULARLY TAKE YOUR TEAM’S TEMPERATURE. There are numerous online tools for doing this, from sophisticated evaluations to simple clicks on smiley or frowny faces. The digital music service Spotify uses what they call a Squad Health Check Model. Every quarter or so they host regular workshops where teams (“squads”) evaluate themselves in eleven categories, such as product quality, teamwork, support, and fun. They then create a visual overview that summarizes all the teams’ data so they can prioritize the next steps. Visualizing data helps turn ciphers into stories.
- 360-DEGREE FEEDBACK. Happy Melly uses a “peer-to-peer bonus system” called Merit Money. Each month team members are given a hundred points. Over the course of the month, they distribute points amongst the team – including the managers – along with reasons why. The amount people give and their reasons for giving are transparent to everyone.
- TEAM RETROSPECTIVES. Regularly scheduled, facilitated feedback sessions for sharing progress, raising issues, and discussing solutions. At the outsourcing company Bridge Global IT Staffing both clients and employees are asked every week how satisfied they were on a scale of 0 to 10. Some companies use WE THINQ, which is a tool that allows anyone to give feedback, post a comment, or ask a question.
- USE A FEEDBACK WRAP. Jurgen Appelo’s Feedback Wrap is a great tool to use whenever a team member feels even slightly annoyed or disappointed. Start by setting the context and describing the environment you find yourself in. Then, list your observations – limiting it to facts only. Then express how you feel. End with a suggestion on how to move forward. The entire objective is to be considerate and constructive, keeping the chance for hurt feelings to a minimum.
- DON’T FORGET YOUR ONE-ON-ONES. Checking in with each other one-on-one (as a manager and as a peer) helps build trust, and will often allow for the discussion of smaller, more informal, and/or more difficult topics.
- VISUALIZE THE DATA. Present the data in a visual format to aid comprehension of the results.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE. Make feedback simple. Keep the process easy, even fun.
- DO SOMETHING WITH THE DATA. There’s no point in taking the team’s temperature unless you’re willing to act on the information gleaned from the process. But even more important is team morale: to repeatedly ask for feedback and then do nothing with it both wastes employees’ time and tests their patience.
- ADDRESS CONFLICT CONSTRUCTIVELY. Team members can be instrumental in addressing minor disturbances before they develop into conflict. Resist the urge to express charged emotion. Instead, focus on constructively discussing the issue. This is where having a communication toolbox is handy. Knowing techniques such as non-violent communication, clean language, coaching questions, and others will only help you in those difficult conversations.
- ALL MEDIUMS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. Remote teams can’t give face-to-face feedback. So they have to find ways of doing it written or verbally. Each form of communication has its pros and cons.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
- Feedback Wrap and Merit Money practices – by Management 3.0
- FeedFoward – by Marshall Goldsmith
- Gauging opinion activities – by The Remote Coaches
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome to another episode, everyone. I’m back from Brazil and Switzerland. If you remember, I attended the Happy Melly learning 3.0 camp where they teach people how to be better facilitators of learning rather than just experts or trainers in the room. And it was really interesting. I must say it was difficult because the entire workshop was in Portuguese and I speak maybe three words of Portuguese and two of those are drinks. It really highlighted to me how much of a barrier language can be. The other thing that had highlighted though is that people are basically the same everywhere. I mean definitely, Brazil has a different culture than Switzerland, which has a different culture from the Netherlands. But in general, people are very similar across the globe.
After attending the learning camp in Brazil, I thought it was a good idea to also change the name of my workshop to learning camp as well. I did that because I want the association to be with sharing and learning with each other rather than having a trainer at the head of the room telling everybody what the best tips and practices are. If there’s one thing that I really took away from the learning camp in Brazil, it’s that sharing really is the new teaching and that people come with a unique set of experiences that are really important to learn about. I was working on the session where we talk about giving and receiving feedback on a remote team. And of course we do this to inspire continuous improvement on the team. In my interview with Pilar Orti, she said something about feedback that has really stuck with me, which is we should be thinking of feedback as a living organism so that all of our organs and muscles and everything are working together and giving feedback on a regular basis in order to keep the system running and improving at all times. And I think that’s a much better way of looking at it rather than the top-down manager giving feedback performance reviews once per year. I mean nobody likes those, the managers or the employees. So I like this idea of continuous feedback. And I think on remote teams, it’s especially important. So I will admit this is also an area where I’m particularly weak. I find it very difficult to give feedback, and I get really uncomfortable with conflict. I have the fear that I’m going to upset the other person. And I think the biggest fear that I have is that I’m going to do more harm than good. When tempers fly, harsh things can be said. Yeah, it just never ends up good, does it?
So I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback. And I wanted to give everybody my top tips for feedback on virtual teams. Because we’re remote, we do a lot of written feedback with teams, of course. And if you’ve ever tried to give somebody written instructions, specs, for example, for a tool that you might be building, you know that it’s very difficult to do that using just the written word. Jurgen Appelo has a great way of giving written feedback which he calls the [inaudible – 03:23]. I won’t go too into it at the moment, but I encourage everybody to Google Jurgen Appelo Feedback Wrap. It’s a really lovely way of giving written feedback. So the thing that I want to focus on is the 360-degree team feedback. I think this continuous feedback is a critical pillar for being able to have a strong, remote team. And I would say that not only should we have 360-degree team feedback… So we should be getting feedback from our colleagues as well as our managers. But we should also be having regular team retrospectives where we can talk about what’s going well and what’s not going well as a team. I think both of those components are pretty critical. So for 360-degree team feedback. We do something on the Happy Melly team that’s also one of Jurgen Appelo’s workouts, which is called merit money. At the beginning of every month, everybody gets 100 points. The only rule with the points is that you’re not allowed to keep them for yourself. You must give them to your colleagues. In this way, we are continuously letting each other know what we value about each other’s work. And when there’s room for improvement, it’s not a weird conversation. It’s just part of the ongoing conversation. So for whatever kind of feedback you decide works for your team, I would say just make sure that you’re doing it regularly and that you’re having this continuous feedback loop. And of course make sure to play with new tools. Experiment with new things because you’ll learn a lot in the process. And it can be fun.
All right, everybody. That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for listening. And if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to leave us a review or share it with your friends. And if you want to learn more about how you can work from anywhere, visit collaborationsuperpowers.com. Yet another shoutout to our awesome producer Nick the podcast monster. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. Until next time, everyone, be powerful.