Appreciation at Work, Feedback, and Gift Giving Go Hand-in-Hand

Photo by Laura LaRose

Photo by Laura LaRose

Years ago, a colleague encouraged our coaching group to take a quiz to discover our language of appreciation—it’s similar to love languages and applies to work relationships. It was little surprise that my primary language is gifts. A number of the Scrum Masters I’d been coaching had received some kind of token gift from me to express thanks or cheer them on. And quite a few of my Improving coworkers have experienced deliveries of flowers, cookies, balloons, and other items in recognition of their accomplishments and milestones.

Recently I shared an article on social media about anonymous feedback. Feedback is a tricky beast—the word can cause the same panic as a bear suddenly crossing our path. It is often something we dread, whether we are giving feedback or receiving it. I’ve found anonymous or third-party feedback difficult because it creates weirdness in relationships. Where ignorance may have been bliss, there are now eggshells to walk around. My friend Ann-Marie had the most brilliant response to the article:

Giving feedback is giving gifts and it's best to receive gifts in person!

Asking for feedback can be scary, and it’s often considered impolite to ask for gifts… and yet it’s a beautiful metaphor to reframe feedback. If you can tell someone what you want to become or achieve, they’re often happy to help you. Gifts of potential blind spots, words of wisdom, and resources to explore may abound from that opening. Imagine what a gift exchange of feedback could look like! What if you could have a day of feedback gifts to boost you up as if it was your birthday? That sounds amazing.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The F-word (Feedback)

Photo by Valerie

Photo by Valerie

A friend told me that how the brain responds to the question, “May I give you feedback?” is similar to how the brain responds when you encounter a bear in the woods.  And I think part of why we respond with panic or anxiety at the thought of feedback is because we rarely receive open, honest, and direct words from those around us.  Instead we do the best we can with the information we have available: the confusing words and behaviors of those around us + our own thoughts and feelings.  With our inner critics, saboteurs, and imposter syndromes, it’s no wonder that we fear feedback from those around us—they might confirm the worst things we think about ourselves!

I remember a coworker telling me that I receive feedback well, and I was surprised because I felt like it was hard in the moment to do.  I remember a client nailing me with spot-on feedback about something I could have done better that increased my respect for him.  And I remember how happy I felt as a coworker and I made requests of one another that would strengthen our relationship. 

There are so many ways that we can receive and interpret feedback, and it can impact our relationships positively or negatively.  What if we were able to give and receive feedback more frequently to build more trust into our relationships?  To make them antifragile?

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Leadership Link Round-Up

Photo by Comrade Foot

Photo by Comrade Foot

An old coworker of mine once told me that I am good at taking criticism.  I was shocked because taking criticism from others never feels easy, but I have found that receiving feedback is not something to avoid or fear.  In fact, learning to be comfortable with discomfort helps us to change and improve.  Below are some links related to criticism:

The Art of Taking Criticism Effectively - This post offers tips on how to listen to criticism without becoming defensive, argumentative,  or angry.  Depending on the situation, you might not always be able to arrive prepared since criticism can come at any time from anyone, but the rest of the tips still apply.

How to Take the High Road - Making excuses or criticizing someone back is not classy or productive in the long run.  Another good post on how to take criticism well.

The Art of Giving Effective Feedback - Sometimes you're on the other side and giving the criticism, so here are some pointers on how to be heard while being kind.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Do Something and Celebrate Failures

Photo by Doug Beckers

Photo by Doug Beckers

I get a kick from finding agile ideas in non-software development related resources.  Penelope Trunk recently posted about how to see the barrier to reaching your goals, and her advice was, "the way you figure out what you should be doing next is that youtry stuff."  It seems so simple, but most people get caught up in planning and neglect to take the first step.  Agile teams get in the habit of doing because of the nature of their work, but managers and leaders can easily fall in the trap of going all with the status quo.  Why?

Part of doing stuff also inevitably means failure.  It's part of the feedback loop and how we learn.  Failure usually doesn't mean the end of the world, but we feel shame, self-doubt, and unhappy nonetheless.  Just yesterday I was telling one of my project managers how I was mad at myself during the holiday break because I felt like I should've been able to do something more or something differently to change the way things turned out related to her project.  It's not rational for me to blame myself for the situation, but I did, and I struggled to see what could have changed to improve things earlier.

According to researcher Dr. Brene Brown, guilt can be a helpful emotion, but shame is destructive.  To overcome that feeling of shame, we can use body language to change our emotional state.  Namely by doing the Failure Bow:

If managers and leaders can be more transparent in their failures, teams will be encouraged to further embrace openness and courage.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

If No One Sees What the Team is Building...

Photo by rubyblossom

Photo by rubyblossom

A friend of mine was telling me about a recent "agile failure" at his organization:

A team has been working on a new product, and the organization has given them everything they ask for--the team has been able to design its physical space and buy new furniture for maximum collaboration.  The organization trusts the team, its Scrum Master, and its Product Owner immensely.  But after a year it is suddenly discovered that the team has not delivered a valuable product.  Where did agile go wrong?

While that short summary clearly leaves out a lot of details, the team was allegedly using scrum, which means the team should've been having a sprint review at the end of each iteration--where were the stakeholders?  I love it when an organization trusts its scrum teams, but I worry when the organization's stakeholders aren't engaged and giving feedback.  A scrum team is not an island.  It exists within an organization, and it needs input from various parts of the organization in order to be truly successful.  

Burndown charts and other reports don't provide the same opportunities to collaborate with a scrum team to deliver a more valuable product as an effective sprint review meeting--particularly if the reports are falsified, as they were in this example.  If an organization is spending money on a team, it should be interested in seeing the results of their investment, and I suggest looking at the working software that is produced.  I don't know of any metrics or KPIs that are going to help an organization prevent a team from lying to them, but I'd suggest asking how many people have attended a sprint review and seen the working software.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.