How our IoT Heroes Drive Team Reflection and Growth - Part 1: Feedback Circles
Agile teams draw their superpowers from self-organization and autonomy. This also applies to team development and individual growth, which we drive with the feedback circles method.
The first core value of the Agile Manifesto is to put people and interactions above processes and tools. When you allow and enable each person on your agile team to contribute unique value to your software development project, the result can be superior. That's why fostering individual skills and supporting each individual is key at Azena.
However, since agile teams are meant to operate autonomously, we don't leave that up to leadership, but rely on mutual feedback and self-reflection.
This leads us to one of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto:
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. - Agile Manifesto
In addition to having teams’ retrospectives at the end of every sprint at Azena, we accomplish team reflection using two powerful tools: Feedback Circles and Impact Circles. The Feedback Circle is a team ritual of creating a safe space for giving and taking feedback. Unlike traditional feedback reviews between employees and their line managers, in our Feedback Circles this does not happen top-down, but at eye level.
The benefits of Feedback Circles for the team development
- Building a culture of constructive and appreciative feedback
- Everyone receives 360-degree feedback from the entire team
- Continuous improvement of individual and team performance through regular sessions
- Enabling mutual respect between team members
The Feedback Circle Setup at Azena
Feedback circle sessions are conducted 4 times a year to maintain a continuous improvement process and allow time for all team members to turn feedback into individual growth. Each Scrum team including product owner, developers and scrum master takes one afternoon for this and ensures that each session can run without any interruption.
The Scrum Master performs tasks similar to those in software development: moderating team interaction and observing the feedback process. Each session begins with an icebreaker exercise to prepare each individual on the team to give and receive multiple feedbacks in a clearly defined time frame. After the warm-up, all participants meet in 1:1 feedback circles, lasting 10 minutes each. The 1:1 has a timebox to encourage people to start their feedback during this event, but also continue it on a daily basis.
Team members give each other general feedback in these 1:1 meetings. However, sometimes more strategic questions are selected by the team and given in advance as the topic for the feedback circle to give more direction and focus to the reflection process, e.g. "How do you think I can have more impact?", "What are my strengths?". In general, however, you should try to keep team feedback as open and unbiased as possible.
Constructive feedback is crucial to creating and maintaining a healthy team culture at Azena. - Rudolf Guth, Scrum Master
At the end of each session, when all participants have shared feedback with everyone, we end with a recap, to sum up, the most important insights and learnings individually but also for the team. There will also be an opportunity for retrospectives and discussion of further topics.
4 Learnings from our Feedback Circle initiative
- Keep the 1:1 feedback unbiased and constructive
- Highlight both individual strengths and areas for improvement
- Keep an eye on the timing to make each session short and focused
- Schedule sessions on days when the entire team can be present
Conclusion: Perfect tool for building a constructive feedback culture
Feedback is essential in agile teams. Feedback Circles hosted four times a year help us at Azena to drive team reflection throughout the organization.
Moderated 1:1 feedback gives each individual clear indications of areas for personal development and state of progress. In addition, this concept helps establish a culture of caring for each other and fostering growth.
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