When talking about the multitude of things that are important to getting highly collaborative teamwork “right” we often start at a basic level of feedback loops. Over the years we’ve heard some folks ask “why do we care about feedback so much?” At Qumulo we spend a lot of time talking about feedback, training how to give it, what to do with it when we get it and some still wonder, “but why?” Here’s one answer, starting with two premises and a model:

Premise 1: It is possible to get better at anything; we, as human beings, are not limited by a set of innate unchangeable talents. This is what is meant by growth mindset (see the phenomenal work by Carol Dweck).

Premise 2: You are aware that, at least while working at Qumulo, you are expected to get better and better at various skills over the time you are here. That continuous improvement is important and is done consciously and intentionally by every member of Engineering.

Model: Feedback is the red /green/refactor of your career, continuous improvement and your entire life.

What is included in “feedback”?

Feedback started happening the second you developed nerve cells. As soon as the first stimulus/response was triggered when you were developing in utero you started receiving feedback. We chose to consciously use this most fundamental aspect of life to get better at various things. Feedback isn’t only someone saying, “I have some feedback for you…” It’s nearly every conversation and interaction you have with a teammate, a coach, an advisor, a mentor. Feedback is the look you receive, the body language of your peers, the tone of voice, and not just the words spoken. Feedback can also be observing how others handle situations that you may need to handle someday and learning from their successes and errors.

These are all potential sources of feedback for you to use or ignore; to improve, or not. Continuous improvement shapes our processes (retrospectives), our software development (testing), the strength of our teams & the organization itself (feedback, all hands, peer awards, 360 reviews, thank you’s, hallway conversations, company awards, etc …)

Inspect & Adapt

The heart of all continuous improvement efforts boils down to this: inspect and adapt. Feedback is the easiest way to inspect any improvement effort through seeking it out; “hey, I’m working on improving this thing, how am I doing?” Or receiving it in the course of a standard day, “when you did that thing, it was great (or terrible) and specifically what was great (or terrible) about it.” Once we receive feedback, whether it is formal or informal, it is on us to do the adapt piece. To make a change, to make something better.

Additionally, working in an organization with self-organizing teams means we need to be responsible and accountable to one another for giving meaningful and actionable feedback. Even in traditionally managed organization feedback comes to you from every side, if you choose to use it. Team members want to know what they’re doing well and where they should improve. You are the only person who can provide your teammate with that feedback since you have the most direct insight into your teammate’s work – no one else can do it.

Questions to ask to improve your feedback experience

– Where do I get feedback today that I may not have realized was feedback?
– Have I provided my teammates with specific, actionable feedback recently?
– What have I done to help my teammates improve?
– What am I trying to improve in myself right now?
– What feedback am I getting from others on my self-improvement?
– Does my team know what I am working on?
– Have I asked my team for specific help/feedback on what I’m working to improve?
– What am I trying to improve right now?
– What feedback am I getting from others on my improvements?

Great! Now lets make it better.

Michaela Hutfles is a sideways E-shaped person (rather than T) with three major depths: agile software development, earth-building and performing arts of all flavors. For almost a decade she’s coached agile thinking and self-management to software developers and keeps teams focused on continuous improvement, growth mindset, and general meta-cognition. She’s building a tiny house on the Olympic Peninsula using clay, straw, and sand.

Share with your network