On Feedback

Throughout 2023, thoughtbot discussed using feedback as a growth tool. We should have talked about feedback as a way to support each other. I want to talk to you about the importance of feedback for support and what your team members can do.

Setting up for success

As a manager, my job is to ensure my team members’ jobs fulfil them or that they have the tools to make their job fulfilling. You can also call this “setting up for success”. I can only do so much during one-on-ones and check-ins. Coaching folks is much easier when I work with them daily. Me working on every project with everybody is unsustainable and unrealistic. This is where team members step in.

We have to improve how we help each other. We already do much work to support each other, but there is always room for growth. We have spoken at length about improving how we give feedback. Everybody went on feedback training in April 2023. I understand that folks may find giving feedback challenging. People can always reach out to other team members for help. Reaching out is part of self-management and self-improvement.

Self-management is one of our core values at thoughtbot. The entire organisation relies on you being able to manage yourself and others. Your team lead and director have little visibility of your daily work. We need individuals to help manage each other.

Giving feedback

When it comes to giving feedback, many avenues are available to you. The top two that come to mind are direct feedback and retrospectives. I trust folks’ judgement to understand the appropriate approach.

When giving feedback, remember the BIQ model. Tell the person about the concrete Behaviour you noticed. Explain why a change is Important. Question how the responder may make a change.

Throughout the conversation, we have to remember that trust is another one of our core values. We must trust in how those receiving the feedback will respond. We also have to trust that the person giving the feedback is trying to help.

Feedback is a tool that we can use to help each other. Often, we don’t know what we don’t know. We need people to tell us so that we can learn something new and grow. Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot. You would want folks to reach out and offer to help.

So far, we have spoken in the abstract, but there are certain things you can look out for. Has a team member gone quiet? When did you last talk or work with someone on your team? Is somebody taking a long time on a task? Your daily syncs are an excellent opportunity to spot these trends.

Clients notice these trends, too. They are often uncomfortable giving feedback and assume we hold each other accountable. A minor issue can become more significant. This usually involves escalations, needing more challenging conversations and energy to fix.

If possible, retrospectives are a fantastic place to address issues affecting product delivery. We want a safe environment where folks can share areas for improvement. We can share feedback in the open. This creates a space where our clients feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. The client can also see how we respond and grow from giving each other feedback.

Once you see one of these flags, you have a fantastic chance to reach out. One solution may be to ask if the person wants to pair. From there, another perspective may unlock a problem somebody has been stuck on. You may talk about the task size and how to break it down into smaller tasks. Context is critical in these conversations. While talking, you may spot a practice that you could improve. There may be something the other person is missing. You can give a tip to help your fellow team members.

Once you have spoken to a team member, they then have something they can discuss with their Team Lead. Without the knowledge, they have no context for areas of growth. Team Leads can then lean into their training to coach the individual team members. They need something to start with, though.

It’s in my nature to expect people to be respectful and empathetic to each other. We worry about being nice and hurting each other’s feelings. Thinking this way is how to ensure you do the right thing. We all want to be the best we can be and enjoy ourselves. That’s the goal. All we’re trying to do is help each other.


This post concentrated on giving feedback. As a team member receiving feedback, it is up to you to act. Acting may involve doing something or talking to your Team Lead about the options. Only you can make that first step, and your teammates trust you to act. All around you are people that want to help and see you grow. Lean into that environment.

There is a lot in the post. Take the time to read and digest. If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear them. I am sure there is something I have missed or a nuance I should consider.