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If you fulfil some sort of team leadership role, where you maintain and possibly direct one or more teams of people to accomplish things of value to the business, then you probably have some sort of responsibility to both give (and gather) feedback to (and from) all parties involved.

Obviously, collecting, collating and sharing feedback should be something that everyone does, but if you’re in that team leadership role, then you kind of have to do it. Its your job.

For me personally, I’ve spent enough time doing it recently that I’ve managed to form some opinions about it, as is often the case when I do a thing. The natural extension of that is to share them, because honestly, what good is having an opinion if you aren’t telling everyone aaaaaallllll about it.

As a side note, I’m sure that posts with a technical slant will return as soon as I actually do something technical, but until then, enjoy my musings on the various “managementy” things that I do.

Loyalty Card

In a team leadership position, you are responsible for the well being of your colleagues and their professional development

As such, their happiness and fulfilment should be your primary concern.

Such a strategy is not necessarily mutually exclusive with the best interests of the business though, and in fact should be complementary (happy fulfilled people generally being more productive than others), but if push comes to shove, and the best interests of the business do not line up with the best interests of your people, you should stand with your people.

Moving on from that sobering point, the first step is to understand the mechanism by which you give and gather feedback. From pain points and frustrations all the way through to career and personal development opportunities and direction, you need to have an effective and consistent way to learn all about your people and to understand what they need in order to be the best they can possibly be.

Going Undercover

The most effective way to really understand the people you’re responsible for is to engage with them on a regular basis.

Not in the form of “hey, lets have a daily catchup” though, because that’s going to easily turn into a status report, and that’s not what you want. You need to share the trials and tribulations of their day to day, and not as a manager or boss, but as a colleague. I’m fairly resolutely against what I see as the traditional management approach and instead think that if you are contributing in the same way (and to the same things) that your people are, then you’re going to understand them a hell of a lot better than if you’re looking down from your ivory tower.

Realistically this means that there is probably a hard cap on the number of people that you should be responsible for.

If they are all in a single team/squad, working towards the same goal or working within a shared space, you’re probably good for ten or so. If they are split across multiple areas/goals, then you’re limit is probably less than that.

The natural extension of this is that a pure people management role feels somewhat pointless. You should deliver the same sort of things as everyone else (maybe less of them), just with additional responsibilities to the people you’re working with.

How else could you possibly understand?

Face/Off

Even if you are completely embedded within the group of people you’re responsible for, there is still value in specifically making time to talk openly and honestly with every person individually about how they are going.

To be clear, the primary focus should be on the person, how they are feeling, where they would like to go (and how you can help) and any issues or concerns they might have, with a secondary focus on how you feel about the whole situation. You want to encourage them to have enough emotional maturity to objectively evaluate themselves, and to then be able to communicate that evaluation.

If you’ve been doing your job correctly, then you shouldn’t be surprised by anything that comes out of these sessions, but they are still useful as a more focused (and private) way to discuss anything that might be relevant.

I like to keep the discussion relatively freeform, but it does help to have some talking points, like:

  • Are you happy?
  • Do you feel productive in your day to day?
  • Do you feel like you are delivering value to the business as whole?
  • How do you think we could do better as a team?
  • How do you think we could do better as an organization?
  • How do you think you could do better?
  • Where do you want to go from here?
  • Do you have any concerns or unanswered questions?
  • Do you feel appropriately valued with regards to remuneration?

Don’t bombard the poor person with question after question though. Its not an interrogation.

The conversation should flow naturally with the questions above forming an underlying structure to help keep everything on track, and to provide some consistency from person to person.

That’s a Sick 360 Bro

Another mechanism is the classic “360 degree review”, where you encourage your people to send out surveys to their peers (and to complete surveys in turn) containing questions about how they are doing in various areas.

This particular mechanism has come up recently at my current workplace, so its topical for me.

I’m sure you could manage the entire process manually (paper!), but these sorts of things are typically digital (for ease of use) and are focused around getting people to anonymously comment on the people they work with in regards to the various responsibilities and expectations of the role they fill.

For example:

Bob is a Senior Software Engineer.

He is expected to:

  • Solve problems, probably through software solutions (but maybe not)
  • Mentor other software engineers, with a particular focus on those who are still somewhat green
  • Participate in high level technical discussions

Each one of those responsibilities would have a set of questions carefully crafted and made available for Bob’s peers to fill out, usually with some sort of numerical rating. That information would then be aggregated and returned to Bob, so that he could get a sense of how he is doing.

The anonymity of this approach is easily one of its greatest strengths. Even if you’re the most friendly, least intimidating person on earth, you’re still probably going to get more honest feedback if they don’t have to look at you directly.

Even more so if you have something of a dominant personality.

Its All About The Money, Money, Money

As a final point, everything that I’ve written about in this post should be clearly separated from discussions about salary, titles and all of the accoutrements that come with them.

At best, salary is a slightly positive factor in overall happiness and fulfilment. Once a creative person is being paid enough to meet their own personal goals, more money is unlikely to make them happier.

Of course, the flip side is devastating. Not enough money or a salary that is perceived as unfair (usually when compared against others or the market average) can be a massive demotivational factor, and in the worse case, can ruin a professional relationship.

Keeping the two things separated is difficult (and honestly, a complete separation is probably impossible), but you should still aim for it all the same. The last thing you want to happen is for people to withhold information about their weaker areas (prime targets for improvement and growth) because they know that you’re going to use it against them later when you start talking about money.

Conclusion

Being even slightly responsible for the well being of another person with respect to their professional life is a big responsibility and should be treated with an immense amount of care, empathy and respect.

That is not to say that you should be soft or impotent in your approach.

You need to be strong and decisive (when necessary) and give people pokes if they need them. Be aware though, not everyone responds to the same feedback mechanisms in the same way, and you will need to be mature enough to understand that and adapt accordingly.

To end on a fairly trite note, at the very least you should aim to be the sort of person you would look towards for professional guidance.

If you’re not at least doing that, then its worth reconsidering your approach.

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