The Candies Feedback experiment

Candies feedback is a tool we use at our Barcelona office to foster a culture of feedback and continuous improvement for teams and individuals.

The procebluecandybigss is simple: every 6-8 weeks every team/department in the office ranging from scrum teams to Finance or Client Services have a few days time frame to give feedback to each and every other team, in a public and transparent way, with this format:

  • Things that the receiving team is doing great, that help the giving team or the whole organization to reach their goals
  • Things that the receiving team could improve
  • An amount of candies

The reason why we chose to use candies was to avoid any reference to money which could deviate attention from the feedback part. This exercise has nothing to do with performance review.

The amount of candies that goes together with the feedback is the part that’s a bit tricky: for every feedback session each team can give away an amount of candies that is equal to the sum of all other teams’ members:

Team No. of team members No. of candies the team can give away
Lion 7 13
Capricorn 5 15
Gemini 8 12

In this example the Lion team should give away a total of (5+8)=13 candies to Capricorn and Gemini in this edition.

In every edition of this exercise all teams give away their candies based on the feedback they give and they have to give all their candies away. The Candies Feedback application we developed in one of our hackatons suggests by default this amount to be equal to the number of people in the receiving team, which means that a “neutral” feedback should be associated with one candies per person in the receiving team as in the example above. Similarly, a positive feedback should be associated with an amount of candies greater than the suggested one and a negative feedback should be associated with an amount smaller than the suggested one:

Giving team Receiving team No. of candies
Lion Capricorn 3 (out of 5)
Lion Gemini 10 (out of 8)

In this example, in this edition the Lion team chooses to move two candies in favour of the Gemini team, perhaps because their contribution to the organization’s goals or to the Lion team’s goals has been a great one (or maybe because Capricorn team’s contribution has been lower than expected).

Once the round of feedback is closed, every team receives a full report of all the feedback that the other teams have given to them, plus the sum of candies:

Giving team Receiving team No. of candies
Capricorn Lion 6 (out of 7)
Gemini Lion 8 (out of 7)

In this example, the Lion team receives (6+8)=14 candies (something’s going on between Capricorn and Lion, these two teams don’t get along well together…)

Not only each team gets to know what the others say about them: everyone can see everyone else’s feedback and amount of candies, that is, what is said during each edition is completely public and visible to everyone in the office.

Lastly, a big bowl of real and yummy candies is available for all teams to take their part as resulted in the feedback round.

real-candies

 

Experiment results

We have run a dozen editions of this experiment in our office. We started with a cheap and disgusting excel spreadsheet and later on developed our own application for that. But what we did not compromise on was office-wide participation: since day one we asked all teams in the office to enter feedback. Most people first reacted to this new experiment just by ignoring it. When urged to complete feedback before the due date, many said things like “We have real work to do” or “I have nothing to say because I do not work with anyone else in the office”. Getting a full round of feedback from everyone was a very tough task at the beginning, as we had to face big resistance to this novelty.

The first edition results caused big shock to some: the very fact that results were public, even if largely advertised beforehand, generated panic reactions in some teams, and a big “Hallelujah” in others.

Over time, teams got used to this exercise and peer pressure started to build up: teams who did not take the exercise seriously or did not give feedback were urged by other teams to do so, taking a load off the organizers’ minds. The “I don’t know what others do” excuse however kept going on for a while. We addressed this in two ways: by asking the complainers to get out of their silos and ask, and by asking the complainees to give visibility of what they do with presentations, demos and other ways of being transparent.

High frequency has been a concern for some teams for a while. We started with a 4-week cadence and after several rounds of feedback on the exercise itself we reduced it to 6 weeks and then to 8 weeks. The key was to create the habit first, and then to start including changes. As of now, we are considering to run the exercise on demand.

One to one phase

Thanks to their inclination to self-management, our scrum teams have taken this game to its next level: at the end of every edition they share between their members all the candies that team has received with same feedback-based mechanism. In the previous example each Lion team member has (14/7)=2 candies to completely give away among the other team members:

Lion team member Candies received
Captain America 2 (out of 2)
Wonder Woman 4 (out of 2)
Superman 1 (out of 2)
Green Lantern 2 (out of 2)
Flash 0 (out of 2)
Professor X 4 (out of 2)
Punisher 1 (out of 2)

In this example, Wonder Woman has had a great edition, while Flash has something to improve according to his own teammates. As per the team phase, we deem very important that real and actionable feedback is given together with the candies.

We deem very important that real and actionable feedback is given together with the candies.

Variations

Over time we have applied some changes to the original concept to answer to participants’ feedback about their experience with this game:

  1. Teams now can throw candies away instead of giving them all to other teams: this means that teams can throw candies to a bin, to say that no other teams really deserve those. This is a very strong message that this team has some unmatched expectations
  2. There are extra candies: in every edition there are a few extra candies to give away on top of the normal ones and these can be used to appreciate one team without necessarily take something away from another one

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