Feedback driven culture

At Atfarm, we have a feedback driven work culture. That means that we follow common practices around leaving room for feedback like:

  • Regular 1:1s between direct reports, but also skip-a-level 1:1s.
  • Frequent employee surveys on topics like work happiness.
  • Retros on work as well as process changes.
  • The use of 360 degree feedback and the G.R.O.W. model.

Those practices can help build a “feedback driven culture”, but are no proof of it. Let me share examples that I run into regularly that showcase a feedback driven culture:

  • Someone will approach me proactively after a meeting to let me know that the goal could have been clearer.
  • A colleague will take 5min to take me aside to let me know that my tone could give off a bad impression in a situation earlier.
  • A team-member asks for feedback on his/her work or behavior in the open, without being protective and invites others to give it.

Benefits

  • A feeling of humanity and humility at work: Everyone knows that they are considered as persons, and not just by work output.
  • Everyone knows that working in the team not just about the “what”, but just as much about the “how”: Taking shortcuts to the “what” (e.g. by taking an ego-trip) will lead to vocalized feedback asking for a correction of the shown behavior. This prevents unhealthy tendencies from arising.
  • There’s a sense of openness. If I’m not doing a good job and someone has a proposal how I could do better, I can trust that someone from the team will approach me. It’s not one sided, I’m expected to do the same.
  • Continuous feedback is not about distributing blame and pointing out flaws, it’s a service to each other - we push ourselves forward: I know that my colleagues are invested in becoming better, and they are helping me to become better myself.
  • Our feedback culture attracts people who value learning and personal growth as much as we do. People who don’t share the growth mindset would probably quickly leave us.
  • Learning how to give and receive feedback will make you a better companion not only at home, but with family and friends as well.

Downsides

  • Sometimes when listening to feedback it can feel as if my colleagues want me to change who I am. Some feedback criticizes behaviors core to the own personality. Receiving such feedback is a big burden. It takes personal strength and self-awareness to say: “Thank you for this feedback, I see how it could improve my behavior in the cases you mentioned. Nevertheless I will not change my behavior on purpose, as this behavior is important to me.”
  • Every team member has to learn to give and receive feedback well. This entails things like:
    • thinking constructively about people around you
    • phrasing feedback mindfully
    • learning to be open minded to other’s perspective
    • learning to say “no” to feedback you don’t agree with personally
  • Not all feedback is good quality (e.g. without context), or delivered in the right form. Such feedback can be destructive for personal relationships.
  • Giving and receiving feedback continuously takes time and emotional energy.
  • At times, people grow tired of feedback. Then they need some free space, a break. Otherwise they’ll grow wary, irritated, and fend of feedback.
  • It can feel as if too much focus is put inwards on bettering individuals rather than at the bigger goal of the team itself.
  • It’s hard to measure the impact of the feedback, e.g. whether someone successfully improved in soft skills, and how this improvement impacted the team. Skeptics like the co-founder of my former company would claim that 80% of team-member’s skills are either existing or not, and that only 20% can be worked on.