Speed Dating Feedback Experiment

We Love Feedback, I think that’s clear by now. And it isn’t just because feedback makes us stronger but also because it is indispensable in a self-managed environment. It is in fact the main way, if not the only way, in which we can regulate everybody’s behaviour.

Because feedback can be awkward and hard to do if not practiced often, you need to incorporate feedback exercises into the habit of the teams. Self-managed teams need to be able to solve their differences on their own, and only when they feel comfortable to tell each other about the good and the bad, the big and the small, can they succeed at difficult times.

The Speed Dating or Speed Feedback is another exercise that you can consider to practice feedback with your team. This format is very interesting because it allows everyone to open up a bit and practice face-to-face feedback without making them feel too exposed. There is something about the countdown, the movement around the chairs and the noise around you that somehow takes some of the pressure off.

How it works

The execution is very simple, we make two rows of chairs in a way that half of the team is sitting in front of the other half, so everyone has someone in front of them. Then the fun begins, we setup a timer, it could go from 1 to 4 minutes. I advise to start with 2 minutes. When the clock starts counting, people sitting on one side will provide positive feedback to the person in front of them. These are of course all those things that one appreciates about the other. When the time is up, is turn for the other row to provide the positive feedback for 2 minutes. Once positive feedback is complete, we go back to the row that started and ask them now to provide feedback about those things that aren’t as welcome or need to be reviewed. Again we do 2 minutes, switch and 2 more minutes. Is important to note that the receiving person should just listen.

Typical Speed Feedback setup

After we complete the cycle of both positive and not so positive feedback from both sides, is time to change pairs. For that, the most efficient method is to follow a typical round-robin algorithm which consists in just making one person fixed to their position and making everyone else move one position left or right. This way we ensure that everyone will pair up with everyone else just once. When working with odd numbers, just add an empty chair and make that one fixed. Follow the same rotation and the person sitting in front of the empty chair will just rest and observe for that one round. Sometimes people will observe interesting dynamics when resting which they can share with the group after each round.

It is completely normal to have a group of mixed backgrounds or seniority in the team. Maybe some members just joined a week ago and for them it will be very hard to provide meaningful feedback. In those cases, invite them to share their perception of what they’ve seen so far or also express what are things that they would like to see in the other person and the things they wouldn’t like to see going forward. This is also a good way to set expectations and establish some links in the relationship.

If you have a coach or facilitator, let them conduct the exercise the first few times. Once the team masters the exercise, the coach can also join the exercise, especially when having odd numbers in the team.

Always make sure you get the group share their impressions after the full exercise is complete. Was it useful? Have they learned anything? What are they planning to do with all that information?

Tip: Consider running this exercise away from the usual working space, even outdoors. A more relaxed and friendly environment will make everyone feel better, improving participation and bonding.

Feel free to use this exercise with groups of any maturity. Just explain it first so they know what to expect and play with the time. Even though this exercise has some advance elements such as face-to-face and constructive feedback, the physical dynamics of it will help cope with the emotions without too much trouble.

The format of this exercise will be better suited for some people than for others. That’s why is essential that you always combine feedback exercises. Use different formats and levels of intensity to make sure that the truth comes out one way or another. In the end is all about transparency and trust. Only then, the team will be a real team.