Remote Teams: Mastering Feedback

We all know how crucial giving feedback is, how feedback helps remote teams to improve performance. But there are no clear rules of how feedback should be given and when it should be given. When there is no clear structure, sometimes it is challenging to decide what feedback to give your boss, your employee, or team member.
Want to learn about the feedback process in my teams, check out this video!

Hey. The last few weeks have been intense for me personally. Among all the other things that are happening, we are raising a follow on round for one of our portfolio companies. And there’s been lots of misunderstandings, mostly due to different time zones, and the fact that we can’t just get together. There are lots of parties involved. And then also, there’s a bit of a complicated background when it comes to that specific structure that we chose for his deal.

Most problems in our lives are communication problems

But that shouldn’t be the topic of this video. But I’m saying this as context because I do think that ultimately, most problems in our lives are communication problems, and there are communication solutions. If we’re good at communicating and if we communicate quickly and in a way where the other party understands a lot of our problems will disappear.

Feedback culture in remote startups today

Now, why am I saying this? I want to talk about feedback culture in remote startups today. When I think of, the company that I started in my teenage years, one of the things that I would change if I could go back in time, was to ask for feedback and give feedback much more frequently. We only did so once a year, typically in December. I remember us thinking about this process of how to give and get feedback. And we ended up having a large questionnaire with lots of different topics that were covered. And we will give that to the employees; they would fill it out, and then we will come together, sit down and talk about the past year.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having a process and having a questionnaire, but there are two things that I didn’t like about the way we did it. Number one, I think the questioner was just too structured. So it was hard for us to understand where most potentially was, the way we let them, was it their equipment, or I don’t actually remember all the sections, but the more structure you add, the more likely you’re going to get an answer in all of those sections. What would have been most important to us is to understand what the employee was most happy with and what was he or she most unhappy with. And our process didn’t do a good job at that.

Second, that’s the most important point once a year means there are potentially 360 something days where the employee has a problem has something to tell us but doesn’t have an opportunity to speak about it and give us feedback. Now, of course, there were informal opportunities for us to get and give feedback. But we didn’t do it in a structured way more than once a year. And so this leads me to the process that I’m using now as Tomahawk.VC but also most other companies where I’m involved, which is a feedback process that we repeat every six weeks.

Giving and receiving feedback

So the longest that employee can go and happy, theoretically, is just six weeks, which is about 45 days, which is not that long, especially if you compare it to a full year. Giving and receiving feedback also takes a lot of energy and time thinking about what’s happened and also how you see the future. It’s not a simple process by default. So how do we make sure we don’t break efficiency by doing that every six weeks while we’ve adopted a very simple process. First, everyone gives everyone feedback. We’re all on the same level, we all give each other feedback, and we all thank each other for receiving feedback. The way it works is for me personally, if I was to receive feedback from someone, I first sit down, and I fill out a very simple form: I rate the work that I have done in the past six weeks, I list my highlights, my achievements, what am I proud of? I list my lowlights. What did I not like about how things went? And then, I visualized how I’m going to improve and how I’m going to change, and I set goals for the next six weeks.

Start. Stop. Continue.

And that’s all I do. There’s no thinking in what did I do for a product or what did I do in terms of social skills? It’s all global, which helps us quickly focusing on the areas that need the most attention. And then, as someone who’s giving feedback, I only answer three questions: Start. Stop. Continue.

Start is what would I like you to start doing as an example I could say I would like to start taking more notes because I’ve noticed that you often forget what we’ve discussed in our meetings.

Stop, stop are things that I would like you to stop doing. For example, I would like you to stop being late because I’ve noticed that you’ve come in five minutes late in the last few meetings. And that’s not acceptable because it means everyone else has to wait at least five minutes for you to arrive.

And then continue. The third is what I would like you to keep doing and do even more than you’re already doing. And then example here could be, “Please continue to be the positive spirit that you are, whenever you enter a room, I feel how the vibe gets better, and everyone’s spirit is lifted.”

There’s no rule on how many items I would list for a start, stop, and continue. Sometimes I only have one per category, and sometimes I have 10, but it’s a quick and easy way to think about changes that we want to incorporate together.

What we do then is after we both prepared this is we booked some time for the two of us sometimes it’s 30 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. Often I plan this towards the end of the day where we can also go over a bit, if there’s something that comes up, that needs to be more time to be resolved. And then I first want to listen to the person and how they’ve seen their past six weeks. I think it’s a great sign if a lot of the points that I’ve noticed already come up. But of course, there will always be blind spots. And those are what we’re going to focus on. So I first listened that I give my feedback, I list the start, stop, and continues, we clarify questions. And then we talk about the blind spots, things where our opinion differentiated and our observation was not the same.

Stay more in sync with everyone

Overall, this process has really helped me stay more in sync with everyone that I work with. I use it both with portfolio founders as well as people inside my company, were employees in previous companies. I think it’s a very enjoyable process. Not only is it quick to implement, but it also allows us to give each other feedback quickly before a small thing has a chance to grow into something bigger just because we didn’t have time at the opportunity to address it.

Those are my thoughts on feedback in a remote setup; I think because communication is so important in a remote team, it’s even more important to do frequent check-ins with each other. There’s so much that you can miss by not seeing each other and physically being close all the time, moods go unnoticed. And it’s sometimes hard to understand how someone else is feeling or how someone reacts to something you communicate. So my advice is to communicate often to give feedback early. This is my process more than happy to hear what do you think about it? If you see any ways for improvements, or if any of you start to adopt it? I’d be curious to hear about your learnings.

And with that, have a beautiful day, stay curious, and I’ll talk to you soon.