4 min read
Wed 25 Oct 2023
In general, we try to cultivate a general culture of feedback within the co-op. Some of the practices we've implemented in the past include:
Previously we've each had a "buddy" for 6 months or so, who we would try to talk to one-on-one at least once a month. More recently, we made a rota that assigned pairs who would speak to each other once per two-week cycle.
This requires regular recommitment to the practice as it naturally drops off over time. Lately it has been a more ad hoc process, where people arrange chats as and when they feel the need to. In the past, the benefit of having a bit more structured approach to this has been that people who don't usually work or talk to each other regularly get a chance to spend time together.
This is particularly important because our team is almost fully remote, which means there isn't any natural opportunities to have chat by the proverbial watercooler over the course of the day. Although it can feel a bit artificial at times, it’s important to manufacture these moments of serendipity in order to strengthen the team's social fabric.
In the buddy chats, we would talk about anything and everything, usually the more personal stuff that can be harder to bring up in a group. People can also remind their conversation partner about any skills or interests that they are trying to develop further.
Some people structured the calls so that one person was the “listener” and the other person spoke. Others approached them as a casual conversation where both people could speak whatever was on their mind. Either way, people seemed to get a fair bit out of them.
During these conversations, people will sometimes bring up tensions they have with other members of the co-op. We try to encourage people to share the feedback with the person in question directly. After all, most of the time, a complaint is simply feedback that needs to be given. If they feel they cannot give this feedback, that might be a deeper issue that needs addressing. Buddy chats are a good space to examine why this is and support them in doing so.
Setting ourselves "personal development OKRs"
This was a short-lived experiment where we each person set themself a few objectives and key results for six months. This provided a bit of a structure to help everyone develop, and to inform the contents of our one-to-one chats. In reality, it felt a bit too rigid and we dropped it after a few months.
Agile Collective have good documentation of this practice in their Handbook .
We've done a few rounds of sessions with facilitator Pete Burden to strengthen our feedback practices within the team. Pete uses a framework that he calls FONT, where you make sure that conversations start with Observations (based in fact, rather than accusations or emotional reactions), then share Feelings and Thoughts, and articulate Needs. This is a method of making sure conversations stay balanced and calm, and culminate in identifying a productive step forward.
From Pete, we've learned about the importance of active listening, rather than jumping in with solutions or formulating what you're going to say next. We've also learned that feedback requires preparation, structure and scheduling, rather than just springing it on someone. It can be useful to give someone a bit of an idea of what to expect before a meeting, and then ask their consent and whether they are open to receiving feedback before beginning.
We decided that as well as these more informal processes, it would be useful to have something a bit more formal. We wanted to introduce this new practice, but without making it feel like a traditional organisation with hierarchies, competition and discipline. It can sometimes be a difficult balancing act. On one hand, the co-op needs to offer structure and support, particularly to newer and more junior members. On the other hand, too much structure can be suffocating. For us, feedback is about learning, support and flourishing, rather than tracking someone's performance.
Once we made the decision to implement this practice, our first port of call was RadHR , a repository of anti-oppressive, radical HR and operations policies submitted by activist groups, co-ops, social enterprises and communities. We're so glad that RadHR exists — it is a crucial piece of infrastructure for the movement.
We found a Peer-to-peer feedback & reflection process by Gastivists that seemed very close to what we were after. For this first round we more or less implemented this exactly, with a few tiny adjustments. They also provided this very useful guide to giving and receiving feedback which seems to consolidate a lot of other resources we've seen. Thank you Gastivists!
The peer review process is an opportunity for all employee members to have some time to reflect on their role, to think about how their day-to-day work is going and what the issues are, in a held space. It’s a chance to have someone else engaging with their job, listening to them and supporting them with anything they need help with, and supporting them to grow and develop within the role.
Introduction from the Gastivists guide
Their process is underpinned by a commitment to giving feedback in a non-hierarchical way, offering support and encouragement rather than blame and shame, and ensuring everyone is doing the best role for them and the organisation.
The process goes as follows:
When choosing people, try to take into account who knows your work and that the load of filling out forms and being present at meetings is shared somehow equally throughout the co-op.
We decided to just keep this to full-time co-op employees for this round, but are keen to try this with external collaborators for the next round.
Here are the templates we used:
The advice was to keep this reflective time to one hour, which in reality was quite hard to do. We all found that it was quite an emotional and reflective process to think so deeply about others.
It took a bit of effort to schedule all the calls and space them out through our calendar. These were meant to be just one hour but tended to take more time than that. We assigned a facilitator at the start, automatically transcribed so that no one had to focus on taking minutes, and summarised some of the key action points in a shared doc for future reference.
We left it up to each individual to decide whether they would share their feedback sessions with all the other members. In general, everyone did, but there was no obligation to do so.
Each person now has their own personal improvement points, which they can work towards over the next six months. This will serve as scaffolding for future buddy chats, to help check in on their progress and offer support.
After everyone had their sessions, we ran a retrospective to reflect on how it went. Everyone in the co-op enjoyed the process as a whole and found it valuable. It felt luxurious and deeply kind to have two other people focus their time and attention on your personal development. We agreed to run these feedback sessions for everyone working in the co-op every six months from now on.
In general, we found that the process was much more time-consuming and emotionally draining than we expected, between writing, reading, coordinating, meeting and decompressing. Potentially this was because it was the first time we did it, but it is something to be aware of and make space for in the next round.
Next time we'll make some adjustments to make it suit us a bit better:
If you have any questions about setting up a process like this in your organisation, get in touch !