How to give and receive better feedback as a remote team

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I’m mixing things up this week with a guest post from our happiness lead at CloudPeeps, Tessa Greenleaf, about how to do one-on-ones well in distributed teams. 

From the very beginning, CloudPeeps has been committed to creating a culture of transparency, which means sharing consistent feedback — and that’s a huge part of why I wanted to join the team. It’s important to us that we keep open lines of communication on a daily basis. So far it hasn’t been too much of a challenge, as we’re all pretty tight-knit. However, even though the culture has been instilled, now is the time to cement it.

That’s why we felt very strongly about implementing pair calls [hour-long Google Hangout feedback sessions] with different team members each month. I was excited to take the lead on organizing these calls, and am happy to share how we’ve begun implementing them.

Pair call vs. performance review

If you’ve spent any time at all in the corporate world you’re familiar with the dreaded performance review. Every year at the same time you sit down in your boss’s office and listen in on how you’ve performed and how you can improve. It’s old school, it’s painful, and I don’t know anyone who gets excited for them – I never did. Not to mention, experts have been debating their effectiveness for years.

How is the pair call different? You’re not sitting in a one-way monologue listening from your supervisor. Instead, you’re in a dialogue with your peers talking about ways you can help each other be better team members.

We’ve set up a round-robin schedule where each person schedules two calls per month with two different team members. That way, we have a dedicated time to catch up with another member of the team who you might not otherwise chat with outside of daily work tasks.

So what do you talk about?

Each pair call starts with a two question feedback loop:

  1. Share two positive characteristics:
    • What about your teammate helps you enjoy working with them?
  2. Share one constructive criticism:
    • How can your teammate improve in one aspect of their work?

We chose these questions because it’s important to us that we’re always challenging one another to grow and improve, while reinforcing the positive traits we see in one another. I know what you’re thinking: pretty touchy-feely, right? At first it feels very revealing to dive into these types of questions, but we’ve found that the more we learn about one another, the better we work together.

The second half of the call is a bit more free-form. We suggest that each person chooses two-three questions from six provided talking points (below) to answer with their teammate. If they want to address other questions instead, that’s totally fine too. The point here is to get conversation flowing in a constructive way.

Suggested discussion points:

  1. How’s your workload?
  2. How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
  3. What are the top 3 things that you feel waste your time during the day?
  4. Are there any projects you’d really like to work on if you had the chance?
  5. Are there any big opportunities you think we’re leaving on the table?
  6. Do you feel like you’re on the same page with the team as a whole?

Note: Thanks to Josh Pigford at Baremetrics for sharing their 1-on-1 call guide as the inspiration for these talking points, as well as Courtney Seiter from Buffer for sharing some of her insights from their team.

Initial outcomes

Since we’re a fully remote team, we spend most of our time online talking to one another on Slack. One challenge has been that personal connections aren’t forged quite as well when you’re always heads down on work, which is why we decided to build a little structure around getting to know teammates.

My first pair call was with our CEO and co-founder, Kate Kendall – and no, it wasn’t a performance review. What was great about having her as my first pair call teammate was that we could really test out the format. Most companies don’t instill a culture where you can provide your boss (let alone CEO) with constructive criticisms, so being in a position where it was encouraged to share feedback on a two-way street was incredible. We both identified ways we can help one another be better teammates, as well as how we can adjust our own workflows to better contribute to CloudPeeps’ overall mission.

All in all, I’ve really liked the format Tessa’s introduced and found her initial feedback practical and really liberating. The pair call questions are still applicable to face-to-face teams, and also to freelancers who can team up with an accountability buddy, so I’d recommend everyone give them a go.

Image credit: Colors of Tibet by Leona Craig Art Gallery

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