Feedback Culture in Design Teams

Knowledge / Inspiration

Feedback Culture in Design Teams

Continuous Design
UXDX APAC 2021

This session of the program is designed to highlight the importance of feedback, in particular the role of leaders in role modelling how to seek and receive feedback in product and design teams.

Keegan Luiters: Hello and welcome. And thank you for joining us. Thank you for making the time. My name is Keegan Luiters and I'm really excited to be presenting this session along with my friend and colleague Sarah Stokes. And we're going to be talking about a feedback culture in product and design teams. And a lot of what we're going to be doing is literally stuff that we presented at a previous conference, but also mainly what we've actually done at Sarah's company at Domaine property group and sharing our experience of how feedback can be utilized in product and design teams.
Sarah Stokes: Now, the good thing about feedback is that it fosters a culture of innovation and hello, by the way. It fosters a growth mindset and opens communication channels. But the problem with feedback is that it's got a brand problem. It's is a bit tricky and can be perceived negatively. So, what we're looking to do today is turn that round and make it a fuel for your organization to do better.
Keegan Luiters: So, the things that we'll be talking about defining what feedback is what's important and how we might be able to support a culture of that feedback and here's who we are, here's how we go back. We go back a few years. We did our masters of business coaching together. It's me in the middle and that's Sarah off to the right of screen. And one of the things that we learned through our masters of business coaching is not only the theory, but the experience of what feedback can do and how to create a feedback culture and the value of it. And they had us start to sort of utilize that and the other thing that's probably important to note is that we've really taken a coaching lens. A feedback's a huge part of coaching, but also a coaching lens is brought to this presentation and how we have explored feedback in product and design teams.
Sarah Stokes: Part of what we learned when we were on our coaching course together was how to give and receive feedback when we were critiquing each other's coaching style. So, one person would be coaching. The other person would be listening and one person would be coached. And that was a great way to flex our giving and receiving feedback muscles. And we learned a lot on the job, which is what we'll bring to today. When we think about feedback in the context of design, we think about critique. And if you Google feedback in design critique is mainly what comes up, but feedback, sorry, but critique is the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other opportunities to give and receive feedback such as when you're running research, is the research brief correct? How are you reporting out the findings? How are you managing your stakeholders? How are you communicating, working in triads and so on. So, feedback is everywhere. It's not just in critique, it's part of the culture.
Keegan Luiters: So, on the back of that thinking that feedback was broader than just the critique for design teams, we thought, well, how might we support a feedback culture in an organization? As I mentioned, we went to a domain property group and got some volunteers and ready and willing volunteers. And we had a small group of eight design and delivery leaders and we ran three interactive sessions of 90 minutes each all delivered over zoom about a fortnight apart. And we asked people to explore it and then go and apply some of these principles and come and report back. And so, we had a series of three workshops where there was a lot of interaction between the participants and a lot of them going away and applying and putting this into practice.
Sarah Stokes: So, we wanted to understand what people are wanting to get out of the program, where they were at with feedback in general. So, we asked them this question that you can see on the screen. And as you can see, there's a variety of responses. People want more than tools. They want best practice. They want to understand how to give and receive in different situations, not just with direct reports, they want to make feedback less weird and they want to make it more of a relationship. And so, that was what we sought to do in the case study.
Keegan Luiters: I think that's a really interesting thing to pick up on here that so many feedback training programs think so much about the technical skills and specifically how to deliver feedback, but it's bigger than that. And this is what without prompting, this is what the participants asked for. It was more than just. How they give feedback or how did I create that whole environment that they're in. How did I ask for feedback and how do I make it a little bit more normal in their teams? And so, I think as you're thinking about how you shift the culture really be aware of thinking that it's just the skills. The skills are important, but it needs to be a lot more than that as well. The first thing that we did with our participant is asked them to define feedback and we'll, after we ask them what they wanted to get out of, it was how do you define feedback? And it seems like a really weird and academic thing to do, but one of the reasons is that how you define the feedback will influence the way that you use it, how you feel about it and the culture that it falls within in your team and across your organization. So, if we just pull out a couple. These examples. So, if we start maybe at the bottom left, that says feedback is critical, positive, negative, and opinions. That is a very different way to someone who the top in the middle of talking about collaboration might respond to what feedback is. And so, it's really interesting where we'll talk a little bit more about how we have defined feedback, but this is a really useful conversation to have in your teams. If someone thinks that feedback is a reaction as opposed to way relationship, there's going to be a different way that each of those parties engage with feedback, how they seek it, how they respond to it. And so, even this as a conversation is a really useful thing for you to do in your teams.
Sarah Stokes: Building of what Keegan has said. It really does set the tone for what happens next as to how you define feedback and how well it's going to work. Feedback is on a bit of a continuum, certainly between me and Keegan. So, I'm on the side of that which does not kill us, serves to make us stronger. I'm a bit terrified of the word feedback when it comes to Keegan, he says, "Feedback is the breakfast of champions." So, it's probably worth reflecting on where you sit on this continuum and that might give you an idea as to how it impacts how you go around and talk about it. So, have a think about that as we go into the next slide.
Keegan Luiters: So, one of the things that I'm fond of saying to people when I'm working with them around how to develop a feedback culture in a team is this, that feedback has a brand problem. And when I think about that, there's one particular story that jumps to mind based on my own experience, I was staying at a hotel in Melbourne a few years ago for work. And I said to the person behind the desk, you look like you're in charge. Can I give you some feedback? And at that point she came from behind the desk and she sort of assumed this kind of a position. You know how martial artists trained to take punches and to take a hit to the guts. She kind of assumed this position. She put her hands behind her back and I could almost feel her tensing up at that point. I said, Oh, look, by the time I arrived here, my taxi late on the first evening, by the time I had paid for the cab, someone had got my luggage out of the boot. And by the time that I got to reception, someone already had my keys ready. And you guys had just anticipated all my needs. And rattled off a whole bunch of other things that I was really impressed by throughout my stay. And you can almost see this relief from her that in her mind feedback was what you tell someone when they've done something wrong about how bad a job they have done. And it taught me a lesson as well, because I sit on this continuum where feedback's great and I welcome and I'm open to feedback. I can assume that other people have that. It's quite often not the case. And I've used little tricks, like instead of saying feedback and using the word feedback to say, Hey, can I share some of the things that I think you did really well? Can I tell you what I've noticed? Do you mind if I share what I saw here, I think this might help? And it's all the same thing in my mind, but it's a different way. It changes the way it was received. And so, this brand problem is something that's prevalent. A lot of people do experience this. They have this sense and so what we do is when we say, can I give you some feedback? People jump into a defensive position in their mind and defensiveness kills the effectiveness of feedback. It just doesn't end up making a difference because people are trying to figure out or justify why the behaviors happened rather than being open to thinking about how they might be able to improve as a result of the feedback.
Sarah Stokes: In order for us today, to have a shared understanding of what we mean when we say feedback, we thought we'd propose the definition, which is this feedback is information that helps improve performance.
Keegan Luiters: And that may or may not be similar to your definition, but if this is the definition that you're using what we've noticed is that it shifts both the way that you give and receive feedback. So, when I'm giving feedback and I'm thinking, well, it needs to be information that helps improve the other person's performance. I need to deliver it in a way that's not just about me being right, but it's also about it being useful for the other person acknowledging that it's possible to be technically correct and useless and it also impacts the way that I receive feedback. So, I can get feedback from a lot of different information, a lot of different sources, not just formal critique processes, not just formal reviews, but I can get it from lots of people, lots of time and my job when I'm receiving it is to try and identify the information that is going to help me improve my performance. So, as part of the feedback from our experience in delivering this case study to the participants at domain, we noticed probably the one big thing was the value of real play, not role play. So, giving people the opportunity to really explore their own experiences, go and try a few things out in the real world, as opposed to playing purely theoretically and just in hypothetical scenarios. So, we really valued and the participants really valued the real play as opposed to role-play and the themes that emerged were ask do and be. You'll notice that as we go through the presentation and we'll pick, we'll remind you again of that at the end, but it was about asking for feedback, how you can better seek feedback and the importance of that. The doing was actually going away and putting this stuff into practice and getting used to sort of almost, we call it, getting the feedback gym, going and doing some reps and being is a reflection of the fact that the skills are important, but how you turn up in each of these conversations is so important to how you turn up for feedback and the relationship that you have with other team members makes a huge difference to how effective and the quality of the feedback culture that you have. And so, along the lines of how you turn up in conversations, we were really strongly influenced. Then we shared this quote from Berne Brown. Many of you will be familiar with Berne Brown's work. And this particular one is talking about how, if you demonstrate that you are willing to receive feedback that you're still learning about this, and you're still trying to get better at things yourself. It actually means that people are more willing to receive feedback from you as well. And so, the importance of how you receive and how you seek feedback is a really important factor and probably another thread of Berne Brown's work is the idea that links, courage and vulnerability that feedback is not about being right, but so often it's about sharing your concerns, sharing what you're not good at, sharing some of the struggles that you've had and being able to deliver that with empathy and the relationship that is built up and that does take courage. It's not often what we are taught to do. We're taught to be right and we're taught to be strong when we're delivering these things. But can we be courageous by showing some vulnerability when we're delivering feedback and the importance of that in the relationship is something that we touched on. And I think something that came up throughout the sessions that we had.
Sarah Stokes: We really noticed this as the case study proceeded through the three sessions. And when the groups returned to share, there was vulnerability within that sharing as well. So, it's actually quite powerful when you tap into it.
Keegan Luiters: Most feedback training focuses on how to deliver feedback. And we took based on this idea that the relationship is so important to have feedback is delivered and that if you’re getting pummeled yourself, it's more likely that your feedback will be received. Well, we kind of flip the script a little bit and decided this is how we we'll recommend that you develop a feedback culture first to seek. So, go and ask for feedback and work on that. To receive feedback without becoming defensive and noticing what comes up when you do receive feedback that you may not be, may not like. And what's that like, and that allows you to deliver feedback from a much more empathetic position and deliver it in a way that is more likely to be received and useful and applied.
Sarah Stokes: And we thought it best to take an approach that helps people match their personal styles to giving feedback. So, the call it a smorgasbord approach or a buffet, I'm not sure exactly how to pronounce it, but I think it might be smorgasbord. Yeah. So, it's important to find out what your personal style is when you're delivering feedback otherwise, you're just following a tool that doesn't feel natural. So, we'll just share these with you now.
Keegan Luiters: For the first framework that we shared with the participants was Radical Candor from a book by the same name by Kim Scott. And it talks about, as you can see on two dimensions, firstly, that you care personally about the people that you're sharing information with a new challenge directly. And so, when you have that, you have a culture of Radical Candor where people are able to give and receive information and you can help them improve rapidly. And if any of those things are absent, then you get either ruinous empathy. So, you care, but you don't challenge directly. You have got ruinous empathy or you're challenging directly. But don't care personally in you end up with him noxious aggression. And so, certainly hope there's no manipulative insincerity around but I guess it's also always good tonight. And the participants really liked this framework I think in the candid nature of its language, it’s kind of very accessible language and it's an easy one to get your head around. One of the bits of conversation that did come up was this idea. That feedback always has to be challenging. So, this idea that challenging directly is the important part. And so, we had a discussion about maybe sharing changing that to sharing directly or talking to speaking directly as opposed to challenging directly. But again, it's the process and the conversation of exploring what this means and how that came about. And that was one of the, yeah, that was one of the frameworks that really resonated with people.
Sarah Stokes: And of course, Keegan and I would use a framework that shows a coaching approach given our backgrounds. And the reason I liked this is that starting with a question, instead of giving feedback that you're thinking can be quite powerful. So, I can give an example of once I was on leave for about five weeks. So, I came back to work and the project that I thought would be so I'm sealed and delivered was floundering and maybe because I was relaxed after being on holiday, I took a breath and sat down with the team and asked them how they're all feeling about where they were at. And we were actually had, we ended up having a constructive conversation about what wasn't working. And then from there, we were able to figure out a path to change and get the thing delivered. It'll be a bit late, but in a lot better shape. So, simply starting with a question and listening can be a very powerful thing. This model it's about asking questions and listening properly not fake listening and not offering advice. But what kind of question can we start with? It's a good idea. Not to start with why? Because why puts people on the defensive, you might try something with, what's the main challenge you facing at the moment, or what are you finding difficult today? I'm asking a question, empowers the person. So, know they're not receiving information that they might find negative. They're actually being given an opportunity to have a think and respond. And you might even think about finishing on a question, which again, allows that person to think about what they'll do next. So, the thing about a coaching approach is it's a very much forward-thinking thing rather than looking back and fixing. So, it can be very powerful.
Keegan Luiters: The third framework that we shared with participants was this SBI-BI model, which comes from the center for creative leadership in the US. And this is very much a framework about how to deliver feedback. And so, it talks about this is a good way to deliver feedback and follows a particular sequence. And it is about. Making sure that you are delivering information that is useful for other people. So, for example, we could use we could talk about yesterday in a meeting. So, Sarah yesterday in our team meeting, you turned up 10 minutes late and unprepared. And what that meant was that we weren't able to start on time and we didn't achieve what we hoped to in the meeting. The alternative behavior is then that next time, can you please make sure that you're on time and you're prepared, or at least you let us know that you're not going to be there so we can move on without you so that we are able to make the best use of the time that we have there. So, hopefully you were able to follow that situation behavior impact, alternative behavior, alternative impact. And I can just as easily say using that same framework deliver some positive feedback. So, Sarah yesterday in that team meeting, you turned up on time and well-prepared, and what we're able to do is get a whole lot of we made the most of that time that we had together and so I'd love if you keep on doing that and maybe even share the process that you did with the other team members so that we can always have much better meetings that are more productive. And so, that's a bit of the mechanics of delivering feedback, but one of the things that people like about this one is that it can be used. It doesn't have to be about or have that one for positive and one for constructive feedback, you can always make sure you're using this and use it as a bit of a checklist and it helps it to be more useful information for the other person. So, the specificity rather than saying, Oh, that meeting yesterday was good. We able to go into a bit more specific details and then people actually do something about that.
Sarah Stokes: Specific is good. This is why this model is good because specifically what you were doing, whether it was positive or constructive feedback, I can remember once someone gave me a drive by a bit of feedback, which was great presentation, Sarah and then they left and I'm like, what was good about it? Because I don't know what to repeats and what to not repeat. What if I repeat the bit of that presentation that wasn't actually that good? So, what specifically did I do well? It's really important to know.
Keegan Luiters: The final framework that we shared with people was one that came directly from our masters of business coaching around this idea of dialogue. And that comes from William Isaac's book called dialogue and the art of thinking together. And it talks about an initial choice. The first choice that we have is whether we suspend or defend the position that we entered this conversation with. So, am I going to? Am I open to thinking about what the other person is going to think about or am I really just going to have my view presented and hope that that is the one that becomes the winner? And even then, again, within defense defending and sort of how hard are we likely to defend this position? So, if we go really hard, we'll enter into a debate. So, the classic politicians are great at this. They have a point of view and that is what they are going to stick to. They are not really interested in what the other person has to say. They'll talk over the top of each other. They're just trying to win and get a point across. The other way, which happens a little bit more once when we're defending our position or defending our point of view is a skilled conversation. It's a little bit like a tennis match where this is where a lot of us, myself included spend most of our conversations that well, I'll wait for you to finish talking and I'll respectfully listen to what you've said. And then when it's my turn, I'll present my point of view and we'll just exchange views. There's an exchange of views there and I can sort of even respect what you think. That's great, but I'm not really changing my own perspective. And the third type is once we've suspended our own view is actually trying to make sense of this and think together and come up with something that maybe neither of us actually entered this conversation believing. But we realize when we look at this thing in a different way, we might be able to come up with a different perspective. And that idea of dialogue takes a lot of effort and there's a lot of skill involved but you can see how the it's a different way of delivering feedback. Not that I might not even be right about this. I'm just sharing what I've noticed and I'm open to the fact that maybe your perspective on this situation might be different and we might be able to emerge with something that is different and better on the other side.
Sarah Stokes: Overtly, tried this approach with paper before and actually said, I'd like for us to think together, because I don't know what the outcome is, but I know that between the two of us we'll figure this out and it has actually been quite powerful.
Keegan Luiters: And so, one of the things that have participants noticed was that this idea of dialogue and thinking to get it as sort of a creative approach to feedback where they didn't have to enter the. Conversation knowing that they were right in delivering the right information, but they were entering in a bit more vulnerable way in a bit more of a, a way where they were interested in both parties, views that we might be able to come up with something different, better in this whole creative way is why we have design and delivery teams. I guess that we're, we're better together. And this idea as much as we can having those conversations that are more dialogue logged into byte and keeping that in the back of our mind, as we. As we deliver and exchange feedback.
Sarah Stokes: So, it might seem that there has been a random selection of frameworks that we shared with you that are based on feedback, but there are some very strong themes. Coming through that we've noticed. And it really does sit around having a good conversation with someone it's about two people being present, it's not about a power struggle. It's about self-awareness, it's about empathy and it's about good listening, all things that are really important for feedback.
Keegan Luiters: And reminds me of a quote from Dr. Michael Kavanaugh, who is at their coaching psychology and at the university of Sydney. And he talks about the quality of the conversation determines the quality of the relationships and the quality of the relationships determines the quality of the organizational system or for our purposes, the quality of the team. And so, really focusing on having high quality conversations where people can really exchange information and get useful information that they can apply is so, so beneficial for our teams. And it goes beyond just the transaction of a particular task. But these are when we're delivering feedback in a great way, we're being vulnerable, we're actually strengthening the relationships and we're building the strength of the overall team. And I think it's a really useful thing to be aiming for to improving the quality of the conversations that we have across our teams.
Sarah Stokes: After we ran the case study, we asked people what had been the most significant change for them. But before we get into that, one of the most unexpected findings was that what the group got out from being together over the course of three sessions with practical experience between the sessions. We actually it was almost, I wouldn't say it was like group therapy group. It’s kind of was people would talk about their experiences, sharing how things were being vulnerable and probably sharing a lot more than we expected. And so, it was almost like group coaching as part of the feedback events. And if I had a recommendation coming out of this case study, it would be to create a space where people can group together and talk about the experiences.
Keegan Luiters: Yeah. And I think the other thing was that people really appreciated the opportunity to have an explicit conversation about this. A lot of people struggle with either giving or receiving feedback. And they really valued the opportunity to have that conversation to be able to in that safe space as Sarah mentioned to be able to explore this and see what it means to go and take some things for a spin, see what worked for them to share with other people and hear from other people will work for them. I think was some of the real, the feedback that we got and then as you can see from some of their feedback, it was going and doing it. It was making it real and putting this into practice that made the difference for them. They really enjoyed that they felt was the most significant shift for them.
Sarah Stokes: So, for our key recommendations based on our experiences, it comes back to the ask-do-be statements that we mentioned earlier. So, asking for feedback when you need it in the moment, don't wait for your quarterly or annual review to get your feedback not knowing how you're traveling best off say, how did I go then? Was that presentation okay? Did it meet your needs or maybe even thinking about what would you like to see from me in the next quarter? Thinking about being specific when you're asking for feedback and thinking about the future as well as the past.
Keegan Luiters: The second recommendation that we have is about actually doing this and giving people the opportunity to go and build their feedback muscles that they go and put this into practice that they go and learn for themselves and they go and apply it in their context by giving people a range of options. What we've found is that people liked to pick and choose bits of each of them. So, okay, maybe I'm going to use the SBI framework but with a dialogue approach or I'm going to use some of these coaching questions to apply some of these Radical Candor and those are the kinds of things that we noticed and people felt much more like it was their own rather than they were being told and they were sort of ticking a box with that. And so, being able to go out and give that opportunity to space for people to go and practice it was, was really a helpful thing that came from this process.
Sarah Stokes: And being so how you are when you're giving your feedback and the relationship you have with the person is a good indicator of how well the feedback is going to be taken. So, there's no such thing as quality feedback when you're getting it from someone you don't trust, that's a quote from Ed Batista. In short, don't be an asshole. Build positive relationships with your coworkers so that you are in a position to give and receive feedback in an open and vulnerable way.
Keegan Luiters: Yeah, I think much lucky it is with being a leader or being a coach, how you turn up in their conversations and how you are being is so much more important than many of us realize and so when we're thinking about this, how do we turn up in order for this to be a quality conversation is probably the primary consideration and then the tools and the skills and the frameworks. So, we apply a secondary to that. Yeah, as Sarah says clunkily delivered feedback from someone that you really trust and you think has your best interests at heart, you're going to be far more effective than technically correct feedback from someone that you don't trust. So, we would love to keep this conversation going. There are a few ways that you can do that. We will share a few resources with you and you can dive into a little bit of this stuff yourself. You can connect with Sarah or I on LinkedIn and Twitter for Sarah, I'm not so social and you can join our workshops. So, we are running a workshopping and to give you again, a little bit of a taste of actually what our case study participants went through and dive into this a little bit more and you walk away with even more practical applications and ways to improve the feedback culture in your teams.
Sarah Stokes: Thanks for listening. And we would love to hear your feedback and hear how you're going with feedback too.
Keegan Luiters: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time and look forward to keeping in touch.