Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Simple Feedback for 1-1 sessions in professional environment

Last year in early October our company went on its annual training camp. This is quite an event in the year as we (the people who work here) get to decide what we would like to train on, and as the different opinion groups form to propose to our management, if the groups are big enough, we're actually able to afford professional trainers out of our combined training budgets also!

My first training camp (I've been with Zuhlke Engineering since 21 May 2007) was actually in Marrakech in the Kingdom of Morocco. Some say the choice in location was because it was cheaper to fly all of us to there, stay in a good hotel with decent food, and hire their conference facility for the week, than do anything remotely similar in the UK or on the European continent. And I can believe this!!

Our camp was divided into 2 parts - soft skills (presented by a really excellent pair of facillitators (married husband and wife team!!) from Top Banana), and erlang (presented by our resident expert Ben Nortier)!

This blog entry is about just one topic Top Banana taught us - "Simple and effective 1-on-1 Professional/Personal Feedback". It is a darn difficult thing to give a colleague feedback, and it is a darn difficult thing to receive feedback from a colleague. Really.

Basically the "scene" is set with just 2 questions, and relies on sufficient trust to be effective. Sufficient is subjective but if (in my experience) one takes a deep breath and relaxes, and never begins a sentence with "You" (rather aim for "I") that is actually enough. This kind of relies on most humans actually not wanting to hurt (physically or emotionally) others. (reminds me of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you")

The 2 questions are:
1. What do I do that helps you in your work?
2. What do I do that hinders you in your work?

After that generally floodgates open if people are extremely comfortable discussing issues, and if not, at least both sides part the session having either aired a problem or discovered at least 1 thing they did not know about themselves previously that they need to digest and possibly later revisit or forget ... until the next 1-1 feedback session :)

It is that simple!

After the trip where each of us actually did these feedback sessions with everyone else, I have actually initiated this with all the people I work closely with, and as time allows I do it with my other colleagues in the office, whom I interact with significantly less. Of course this lesser interaction means that understanding relationships take a lot longer timewise to form, and the chances of problem-causing miscommunications exponentially rise!

Some lessons that I have learned that are VERY interesting:
1. I have blind spots that others definitely see and adjust themselves to!
2. Different people, depending on my conscious mindset or context adjustment I make mentally before I see/talk to them, give me COMPLETELY conflicting feedback!
3. Some feedback that I receive that I consciously do try to think about and incorporate in my behaviour/style goes COMPLETELY out of the window when pressured situations arise!
4. Realisation that I need to detect earlier when I am feeling "pressured", take a deep breath, a walk maybe, and realise life is not that serious! :)

Anyone can do this, but the first time definitely requires dynamic facillitation to help get over the uncomfortableness that generally exists amongst work colleagues, to explain and prepare the people involved for the new, prepare them to listen in order to change, and accept a challenging proposal - be honest.

"Seek first to understand, then be understood" was one of the strongest messages I took away from Marrakech ... which reminds me of the funniest insult I've heard in a long time (outside of a South African context where verbal insults are an art form in parts of the country) - this was between 2 food sellers in the Marrekech [fast] food market: "... AND YOUR MAMMA WORKS IN McDONALDS!!"

Feedback welcome!

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