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.

The Poker Chips Feedback Experiment

The Poker Chips experiment gave us a whole new level of transparency, communication, trust and performance. So much that I strongly recommend every team to try it and sustain it, but before I go into details, I must set the right context so you understand where we were coming from.

After we ditched the hierarchy and moved to a self-managed environment, we had to experiment with a lot of innovative practices to cope with the gaps that the lack of structure left us. Our teams are used to come up with many democratic approaches to make decisions and implement processes. The methods that we’re going to describe in this post need to be put in this context and must be carefully used in groups with little experience with transparency and honest feedback. For us, after 3 years playing with democratic approaches, the Poker Chips feedback was just one more thing we were trying.

One of the things that nobody was controlling in our structureless model was to make sure that everybody was doing what they were expected to do and that nobody was taking advantage of the system or derailing from the values and work required for the company to sustain its culture and achieve its business goals.

We experimented with lots of performance review exercises. To get a better context read Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3, Experiment 4 and Candies Feedback Experiment.

If you haven’t read our previous experiments, this is a brief summary to help you get in context. We tried different ways of giving promotions by selecting the best employees democratically. We played with surveys, voted by categories and even delegated the promotions budget to the group for them to distribute but it was the Candies Exercise the one that took us to this new Poker Chips experiment. The Candies feedback, in short, is an exercise in which every team (as a whole) provides feedback to every other team (as a whole) and, additionally to the written feedback, a number of real candies is also given as a sweet rating of their performance. Typically the teams would collect those candies and all team members would share them and enjoy them together. It is important to say that the candies exercise wasn’t linked to money or promotions in any way but rather open and transparent feedback for the teams to understand how they were perceived and how they could do better.

One of the risks when creating self-managed teams is that having all members the same hierarchy can be confused with not having the right to demand accountability from others. To some degree, there is this feeling of “we are all the same and nobody can tell me what to do” or just not feeling comfortable with confronting anyone without having any real authority over that person. The way we see it, in a self-managed model, everybody has the authority to demand accountability to others, but of course, not the easiest thing to understand or do.

With this method, we make sure that everyone is aware of how they are perceived and what they need to do to improve that perception. Coming from the Candies Exercise, when the candies were collected, we raised the question to the teams “do all members of the team deserve an equal amount of candies?” or “have all contributed equally to this team?”.


We had some poker chips laying around from other workshop exercises so we decided to use those. We directly converted the number of candies received by the team into the number of 1$ coins they could use, and that would be the currency we would use for this feedback exercise.

If you wanna run this exercise from scratch you can decide the number of coins following a formula like this:

c = m * n + e

  • c is the number of 1$ coins per person for the exercise.
  • is the number of team members.
  • n is a variable to control the magnitude of variation. The bigger it is, the bigger gap will create between the best rated and the worst rated members.
  • e is there to avoid an equal distribution by forcing every member to decide who gets extra coins. e must be between 1 and m, the closest to 1 you would foster recognition of performance above average, the closer e is to m, you would be fostering punishment for lower than average performance.


We applied the following format to mature teams, with lots of experience in providing feedback. This is how it would work for a team of 5 members:

  • m = 5, n = 2 to avoid big differences in rating and e = 1 to foster positive recognition. c = 11.
  • Get all team members together in a friendly environment. It can be a playroom, the park or the bar. Whatever works for you.
  • Each member will get 11 coins of 1$ each.
  • In turns, each member will distribute their coins to all the teammates, giving to each one, a number of coins and the justification for it. This happens face-to-face and in front of everyone.
  • Once everybody distributed their coins, we compute the totals and write down the results on a board or a screen for everyone to see.
  • Give some time to reflect on the results and encourage everyone to share their thoughts by asking questions such as “are you surprised by these results?”. Also, encourage team members to ask the group “how can I improve to get a better result next time?”
  • Repeat this exercise often, every 6 to 12 weeks, identify trends and ask the team to define a plan that helps all team members help each other improve. It is ok and normal to have people outstanding but watch out for big differences of results or team members with recurrent low results.

Variation: of course you can sweeten it up a bit and use chocolates or any other yummy feedback unit so the team can have a feast at the end of the exercise!

Bonus: you can consider linking this to your appraisal process. In our experience, when you add money to the mix, you compromise the feedback but it sure can be a great way of running performance reviews for mature teams.

Proceed carefully! This is exercise can raise sensitive conversations and can be very awkward for an inexperienced team, potentially damaging the team moral and personal relationships. Add variations to the above format to reduce the impact if necessary. You can play with different degrees of anonymity. Start safe and send out an anonymous online survey first, where members can give each other feedback privately. Collect all the feedback given and have it discussed by the group without disclosing authors. After some sessions like that, when the team is ready, introduce the coins and just ask team members to put the coins in a box or behind the teammates’ back while seating in a circle on the floor. Eventually, with more experience, gradually open it up until you reach full transparency and one-to-one communication. Do not link this exercise to money or promotions if the team hasn’t practiced it before and feels comfortable with it.


In conclusion, this exercise is extremely powerful. It keeps everybody aware of how they are perceived in the team, allowing them to continuously improve upon feedback and making sure that all team members are meeting the team’s expectations. Running this exercise we had cases where low performers who would have been terminated overtime, had the chance to react and become valuable members of the team. We also had cases were low performers were never able to match the team’s expectation and had to eventually leave the team. Equally, we had cases of people constantly getting the highest scores in the team and that’s usually a great indicator for the team to consider proposing that member for promotions or salary increases. We consider that mastering this exercise is essential for the success of our teams.

Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 4: Star Awards

At this point, we have experimented quite a bit with different methods and, more importantly, we have grown in terms of trust, transparency and self-management. Check out our previous experiments if you haven’t done so yet (Experiment 1, Experiment 2, Experiment 3).

This time we wanted to tackle one of the flaws that all of our previous methods had, and that is to provide recognition right after the fact and have a process that runs throughout the year rather than just once every 6/12 months. We still had to stick to the corporate annual budget cycle so this is what we did:

8 Stars

There are a couple of things that made us create a “currency” for appreciation. After we ran Experiment 3, participants, in general, expressed that they didn’t particularly enjoy to use direct cash because it made the exercise too much about the money and deviated the attention from the recognition itself.

In addition to this, we don’t always know the available budget, when will be approved, how much it will be or even whether we’ll have one. It’s easier to have an artificial currency that you can exchange for real cash once your organisation has the money ready for it. So receiving a star will be seen as recognition and even though it will be converted to money at some point, it is nice to be recognised right away and enjoy that bit without thinking about money.

Why 8? That’s a great question. We used our gut feeling and previous experience on this. In Experiment 1 you could mention 3 names, in Experiment 2 you could mention up to 15 names and in Experiment 3 there was no limit in regards to how many people you could include in your distribution. With all that in mind, after studying how people behaved in these experiments and also considering how much budget we would typically get for increases, we decided that 8 was a good number both for having a reasonable monetary value when we convert it but also to convey that a star is valuable. Having only 8 for the whole year would make everyone carefully think about who deserves one, rather than just give them away easily for any little thing. We wanted a star to be meaningful.

As few rules as possible

After the 3 previous experiments, the group is now mature and hence we didn’t feel like we needed to set so many rules. We wanted to give people as much freedom as possible to use their stars as they considered appropriate. Stars could be given at any time, to anybody and even several stars to the same person, as long as you didn’t give them to yourself. We only set the limit of the stars (8) and made clear that all the stars will be published, who gave it, to whom and why. Also, because humans tend to procrastinate we said that 4 stars would expire in 6 months just to avoid people forgetting or keeping all the stars for the end of the year which would defeat the purpose of moving to a spontaneous method.

Oh yes, there was one more rule, if you wanted to cash out the stars you received at the end of the year, you had to participate in this exercise, meaning that you had to give out at least 1 of your stars.

Counting Stars

When the year was over, we would look at how much budget there was for this purpose and make a direct conversion dividing the total budget by the number of stars given. Each employee would get that value for every star received. Simple.

If somebody received so many stars producing their increase to go beyond their salary range, they would get a promotion. We actually loved this because promotions are a consequence of a salary increase earned by everyone’s recognition and not the other way around.

Things we considered

There were a few things we considered that we didn’t end up implementing. You may want to try them out though, so here they are:

  • Combine the stars with another method. You could dedicate a percentage of your budget to the Star Awards exercise and distribute the rest with a different method like splitting it equally among all employees to ensure a minimum raise for everyone or delegate some of it to the teams or apply a different method to that bit. Your imagination is the limit.
  • Allow giving a star to an entire team and split its value among its members.
  • Set limits. For example, an employee can only give out up to 4 stars to their team members but the other 4 need to be given to colleagues from other teams.

starsWhat worked well

  • We didn’t have a single employee who didn’t receive at least 1 star. Most people received several during the year for specific contributions, sent by a colleague together with a nice piece of positive feedback. This really motivated people and helped us keep doing our best through the year.
  • Everybody was happy for people receiving a lot of stars, they’re just great employees and teammates and if they received 20 stars it was because they really deserved them.
  • The fact that the stars were public could influence people on their decision. Maybe someone was thinking of one person to give them one star but then changed their mind when they saw that they had already received a lot of them. While we were concerned about things like that happening, and they probably happened, we still think that the positive impact of sharing recognitions frequently with everyone created way more good than bad.

Not so well

  • Again we didn’t have feedback about things to improve. Most feedback was to recognise something great about someone so additional methods needed to be used to fill that gap.
  • With this method, we still have cases of employees that interact with many people and their exposure made them more likely to be considered by more people versus those who spend more time out of the office, with clients or more isolated who are inevitably considered by fewer people as a candidate for a star award.

In Conclusion, this method was an extraordinary exercise. The feeling of giving a star, receiving it and even seeing how others were recognised was a boost and having 8 stars per employee, we had plenty of happy days throughout the year. Still, we think we can do better and that is why we’re working on the next Experiment, one that we think will fill most of the missing pieces. Stay tuned.



Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 2: Most Complete Employee

If you read our Experiment 1 for the merit increase, you would know that the system, even though it brought a lot of good things to the group, it had some room for improvement.

With a little bit more time we decided to work on an improved version of the “Best Employee” and we created the “Most Complete Employee”.

Very similar format to the previous voting but this time we made a few changed to cover some of the feedback shared by the employees:


With the help of everyone, we defined 5 different categories: Teamwork, Stakeholder Accountability, Knowledge Spreading, Passion and Expertise in Relevant Field.


With this, we intend to provide clear guidelines for the behaviour we want to reward, as well as shaping our culture at the same time.

Up to 15 different people

Although you could leave blanks and vote for the same person in different categories, having the possibility to vote for 15 different people would allow to include more profiles and recognise different aspects, like those teammates that aren’t rockstar programmers but great team players.


Votes wouldn’t be anonymous. Everybody would see who voted for whom. Employees could still vote for themselves but everyone would see it. This would increase transparency and trust in the system and end results.

Online Survey

Instead of ballots and a box, we would use an online survey, this way we would avoid bad handwriting, human errors when counting and made easier to draw all sorts of statistics. The fact that all entries were 100% public made any tampering with this system very difficult.

Regatta System

Final results were based on the “regatta system”. This system rewards those who rather than scoring very high on a single category, scored nicely in several or all categories, showing that this employee was embracing the company values.

How it works:

  • As in the previous system, 3 names are entered for each category, the 1st name gets 3 votes, the 2nd gets 2 votes and the 3rd gets 1.
  • After the count, each category is sorted by highest number of votes, leaving everyone with a ranking position in each category. The one with more votes gets position 1, the second most gets position 2, etc.
  • Once you have all 5 categories ranked, you convert the ranking position into points. The 1st position would give you 1 point, second 2, third 3, etc. For example, if somebody is ranked 1st in Expertise, 9th in Knowledge Sharing, 22nd in Teamwork, 38th in Stakeholder accountability and 3rd in Passion, the total score for that person would be 1+9+22+38+3 = 73 points.
  • Finally, you put everyone in a single ranking and sort from least to most points. Those who got good positions on every category would be at the top of the ranking.

To illustrate it better, here a more complete example:


Those 3 tables represent 3 different categories, sorted by the number of votes received by each employee. Then based on their position in the rank, they get that number of points from each category. Once you add up the points from each category you end up with a consolidated final score that we sort from lowest to highest.


In the final ranking, you can see how Goku ended up first, even though he has fewer votes than Spiderman. The regatta system rewards Goku for scoring high in several categories. Even though Spiderman is the best in category 1, is not as good in categories 2 and 3.

Again, we ran a retrospective after this exercise and these are some things that came up:

What worked

  • People liked the categories, they represent the values of the office and they allowed to recognise different skills and profiles as well as a more homogeneous criterion.
  • Transparency was appreciated and even some voting was commented or challenged which helped shape a common understanding of the behaviour and aspects that we want to reward in our office.
  • It was great to have the opportunity to recognise a lot of different people.
  • People were mostly happy with the results and recognised that in such system people who deserve recognition make it to the top and vice-versa.

What didn’t work so well

  • People working with many different departments, such as a Product Owner, are more exposed and in a better position to be known and be evaluated by others, on the other hand, people working in teams like sales or finance are less likely to be recognised by others, since they work more isolated and often out of the office.
  • Same as in the previous method, all feedback is positive, employees don’t get feedback on what to improve and have to use alternative methods for this. This is especially rough for the only person that didn’t get any vote.
  • Again, this system is somehow time-consuming, involving everyone in the office which makes it heavy and not spontaneous. As shared before is less than ideal to run this only once or twice a year. Recognition is always better right after the fact and is hard to think of events that happened several months ago. We tend to unconsciously focus on more recent interactions with other people.


In conclusion, this method was much better than Experiment 1, we covered some of the gaps and improved significantly. Having to stick to the annual performance review, this is way much better and it allows you to progressively introduce more drastic practices while learning and shaping your culture in the process. For us, the results were no worse, if not better, than the traditional system and on top of that, we engaged everyone in one of the most sensitive decisions, showing trust and continuing in our journey towards more autonomy and self-management.

For the next iteration, we decided to spice things up a bit. Check out the Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 3: Salary Distribution.


Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 1: Best Employee

We did it, we removed hierarchy and managers, we are now all equal. Great.

However, as you may already know, most content in this blog refers to a self-managed office within the context of a bigger, hierarchical organisation, our self-management can only get so far, but still, pretty fun.

Before we realise, is that time of the year when the “bigger company” asks us to submit our proposals for promotions and salary increases. There used to be a clear step-by-step process for this, centralised through the managers. With no managers, what do we do now?

To be honest, we didn’t pay much attention to this and caught us by surprise, the deadline was around the corner and we had to find a formula very quickly and send out our proposals to corporate. We decided to run a simple voting.


The process was simple, every employee could fill in a ballot entering the name of the 3 employees they thought to deserve a promotion/raise. Each employee could vote only once, votes were anonymous and hence they could vote for themselves. The name on the first position would get 3 points, the name on the second position 2 points and the name on the third positions 1 point. Next to each name we needed to enter the reasons why we are proposing that employee.

At the end of the day, we proceeded to the scrutiny, counting all the votes in front of anybody who wanted to witness it.

The results were simple, we added up all the points and produced a ranking with the top 10 employees. That is the list that would be submitted to higher management for their consideration, they would still have the final word. The full list was available for anybody to see upon request.

A few days after this process was completed, we ran a retrospective about this method, and these are some things that came up:

What worked

  • Great progress consolidating self-management, for the better or worse, people were more in control than ever when it comes to deciding who outperformed. To trust them with such a sensitive topic, was consistent and giving a clear message.
  • People were pretty happy with the results. People at the top of the list were highly respected and made sense to most.
  • Corporate was also happy. They had a list of candidates where they could still apply their own rules, based on current salaries, seniority, recent promotions, etc.

What didn’t work so well

  • Many people shared that 3 candidates weren’t enough. They had more people in mind that deserve recognition and they would have liked to include more names in their vote.
  • Around ten people weren’t voted by anybody and others got very few points. Since there was only feedback given to people voted, there was nothing for the rest to work with and improve. Additional feedback initiatives were necessary for people to find out why they got so few or no votes.
  • This happened at the end of the year and we know this is not ideal. People tend to reward more recent behaviour and forgets about great work done earlier during the year.
  • People followed different criteria, which can be healthy but also confusing. There were some vague guidelines about what things to consider when selecting your candidates but still many people expressed very different approaches to their voting and that didn’t help towards a unified culture we wanted to create where behaviour is most important than results.

In conclusion, as a first attempt, it was a success but it clearly showed some flaws to be improved. In any case, it was very easy to set up and improvise so no excuse for not trying!

Wanna see what we did next? Check out Experiment 2


Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 3: Salary Distribution

Like everything else we do in our office, we keep looking for ways to make recognition and salary increases as engaging as possible. On previous attempts (experiments 1 and experiment 2), the approach was more democratic, people would vote for the best workers and the ones with more votes were strongly considered by management for increases and promotions. This time we tried something fundamentally different. We wanted people to make a conscious decision and make it really count, regardless of whether everyone else was on the same page or not. So this is what we did:

Management gave us the total budget allocated for salary increases, we split it equally by the number of people involved in the exercise and we added just one rule: Your share isn’t for you, it’s for you to give away. How you do it, is entirely up to you, but know that whatever you do, it’ll happen. So you can decide to increase the salary of somebody and nobody will question it. All you have to do is to write an email with your decision and send it to management. The reasons of your decision are appreciated but optional.


To help you understand the method, I will give you a concrete example. Imagine we are a group of 30 employees and there is a 60,000€ budget for increases (Note that we’re talking about annual salary increase, not one-off bonuses). Now, If we split it equally, you’d get 2000€, but again, those aren’t for you, those are for you to give away in whichever way you like. So you could decide to give it all to one person, or split it equally and give 69€ to each employee or decide to give 1000€ to Tina, 500€ to Julia, 300€ to Marta and 200€ to Oliver.

If somebody forgets to do it by the given deadline or doesn’t want to do it, we would split their share equally to the rest.

Once everyone submitted their distribution, your annual salary increase will simply be the total sum of the different amounts that other employees decided to give you. It could be 1000€, it could be nothing or it could be 2987€ who knows.

You may be thinking that this won’t work or that this can’t simply be done. Well, stop thinking, we did it and we still talk to one another.



Here some of the objective facts of our experiment:

  • 30 people were invited to use this system
  • People didn’t know each other’s salaries
  • Only two people didn’t want to participate
  • Only two people gave the full share to a single person. Any thoughts?
  • Only a few people shared their amount with less than 4 colleagues
  • Most people shared their amount with 12 people or more
  • Management didn’t ‘intervene’ and honoured the results as they were


Now, is this fair?

Let’s see. Of course, fairness is an extremely complex concept, here some thoughts that we exchanged after the fact:

  • People who received a total increase, inferior to the original share, felt like they underperformed or came out worse
  • A good number of people felt that not knowing everyone’s salary, prevented them to make the best decision. Others thought that they had no problem recognising top performers regardless of their salary.
  • Half of the people kept their share within their own team while the other half had no problem to send money elsewhere


Our conclusion

Some people feel that bigger teams have a better chance to get more money, others feel that the popular types get more and others that more isolated people who are constantly travelling or working directly with clients would get less due to limited visibility. Maybe so, maybe not. We’re all human and are by nature subjective. We all share the feeling that everybody else will abuse the system, will be unfair and their decision will be influenced by lots of external factors while we, ourselves, will make a proper decision. See something wrong with that assumption?

Is this system perfect? It isn’t. Is the traditional manager-centric approach perfect? It is not. Do we need to keep improving the system next time around? Always.

The main difference between these two systems, and our great win, in my opinion, is that we all participate; and beyond the subjective fairness of the results, the fact that we are even discussing and experimenting with this is a huge cultural breakthrough.

On a personal note, I feel great about having the power of increasing the salary of somebody who under my own criteria deserves it. It’s an incredible feeling and I love working in a place like this one.

After a few rounds of experimenting with promotions, we learned a thing or two about it. Wanna see what we did next? Check out the Merit Increase in a self-managed group. Experiment 4: Star Awards