Feedback Canvas. A tool for receiving honest feedback from your team

You can read this post in Spanish here.

My first Feedback Canvas was tough. I remember the days after. I was angry, upset, sad, happy and excited at the same time. It made me realize that I was not used to receive honest feedback. It affected me so much that I didn’t really know what to do afterwards nor what actions to take.

4 months later I had my second Feedback Canvas. This time it felt different. The tool didn’t change. I did. In these 4 months, I learned how to receive feedback and what strategy to follow afterwards. I’m going to share with you my own experience, the feedback my team has given me and the actions I am taking based on that feedback.

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Why does it work?

As with any feedback, it only works if the people know you. And I mean, really know you. The real you. If they don’t, their feedback is going to be shallow, empty, and useless.

It works because feedback is a constant in your day to day. If requesting feedback is not a habit, this tool doesn’t work.

It works because you are the one who is requesting the feedback. You are being proactive. You are humble and you understand that you have so much to improve. Because you want to improve, right?

What is Feedback Canvas?

Basically, you put a bunch of people together in a room to give you the most honest feedback of your life. Hopefully. It’s kind of an Intervention but requested by yourself. The format is very similar to a retrospective but you are the subject the team is analyzing.

In Creditas, where I currently work, we give feedback grouped in 7 categories, which happen to be the principles on which the company’s culture is built on: Love our customers, Brutally Honest, Learn Fast, Thinking like Owners, True Team Players, Technical Knowledge, Warriors and Play to Win. We also take into account what is expected from somebody in your role. Here you can find an example of what is expected from a Tech Lead. Change all this to what suits your context.

How to organize one?

Pick between 5 and 9 people you are closest to in your day to day. The people you really work with. If you are leading a team, as I am, they must be there. Your manager should be there too.

Pick a facilitator who will take care of scheduling the event, keeping everything on track, maintaining the structure, explaining how the Feedback Canvas works and moderating the session. Can be anyone.

The session takes between one and two hours depending on the frequency you do it and the amount of people you invited. Use a countdown timer and keep it visible.

If you want to say something before starting, do it. I thanked everybody for coming and asked them to be as honest and direct as possible without any filter.

Fill the retrospective board

This is the main activity of the Feedback Canvas. It takes around 20 minutes and its purpose is to receive detailed feedback from each member of your team and make a detailed and conscious self assessment.

I know retrospectives can be organized in different ways depending on the objective. However, in a Feedback Canvas, the structure needs to be kept as simple as possible. Divide the board in 3 columns: Good points, Points to improve and Improvement actions. Everybody, your team and yourself, writes their points privately and fill the board when they are finished. Some teams fill the board one point at the time. Try both and see what works better. There are a couple of rules to follow:

  1. For every point to improve anybody writes, they should also write an improvement action as a suggestion. Sometimes it is difficult to find an improvement action. When that happens, the feedback can be discussed and you can find something together.

  2. Write the feedback using the first person: David, you are cool instead of David is cool. The feedback should be direct.

You can use Groupmap or Miro but any other online board will do. A Google Sheet would do too.

Give a score for each feedback category

It takes around 5 minutes and its purpose is to compare how you perceive yourself with how others perceive you. The activity is very similar to a Planning Poker. Disclarimer. I’m just using Planning Poker as an example, please don’t use it as a real tool in your day to day. Please. Please.

Give a note from 1 to 5 for every feedback category. We in Creditas use the company principles and values. You should adapt it to your own context.

3 means as expected, 1 means hugely over expected and 5 means hugely under expected. It’s rare to have a 1 and its rare to have a 5. Yourself and your team vote privately at the same time and then share it with everybody to compare the results.

You can use Mentimeter but I’m sure a Google Sheet would do too.

Compare the score

Show the results of the category score and compare your results with the ones from your team. This score should reflect what you and your team just put in the retrospective board.

My own My teams

At the left you can see my own assessment. At the right you can see the weighted average of the scores my team gave me. I thought I did what was expected but I could’ve done more. However, my team thinks a little bit more of myself than I do.

Read the retrospective board

Start with the second and third column. Every Point to improve is read together with its related Improvement action. You read your own out loud first. Then, the facilitator reads the rest. The main reason of organizing a Feedback Canvas are the Points to improve. In your day to day it is easier to receive feedback about the good stuff. This is the what will make you improve.

Don’t agree or disagree with the feedback. It’s not the place nor the time to do that. You can ask for clarifications or examples though. You can also ask for who wrote the feedback. The feedback is not anonymous. This whole thing would be just a charade if it were.

Finish with the Good points. You read out loud your own assessment first. Then, the facilitator reads the rest.

Here is an excerpt from my own retrospective board. Just the Points to improve and related Improvement actions. If you are interested, and I know you are, you can find the whole thing here. Disclaimer! You’ll find English, Portuguese and Spanish in there. Use Google Translate.

Points to improve Actions to improve
HONEST - Sometimes I have the feeling of hurting other people. I’m also not good at comforting others. HONEST - I need to be more careful of how I express what I have to say. Being brutally honest needs to also take into account how others perceive the feedback.
OWNER - Sometimes you don’t have control over your passion. That generates anxiety and frustration that are not friends of a leadership role. OWNER - I’m going to recommend you some articles and a couple of books that talk about emotional intelligence.
TEAM - You are constantly improving but you don’t make others improve as much as you do. TEAM - Let others take the lead in technical discoveries. Help others give a talk in a meetup.

Actions to take afterwards

Although nothing should come as a surprise, this is a lot to process. You can see that everyone kind of agrees on the same points. And probably you do too.

The first step is to start thinking about what everybody just said and read the results of your Feedback Canvas a few days later.

The second step is take the results to your Team Lead or Manager and talk about them. You need to talk about the results with somebody that can help you find the right strategy and the areas of action. If you don’t have a Manager, talk with a mentor. Or talk with a friend. You need help.

So I went and talked with my Team Lead and with my Engineering Manager and they helped me identify 4 main areas of action:

  1. Give others more space to improve and help them grow. The sooner I have somebody in my team that can take my place the sooner I can move forward. This will be my main focus.

  2. Keep improving soft skills and emotional intelligence. I identified that my soft skills get worse when I’m hungry, angry, lonely and tired. This is normal for everybody but it can be more drastic in people that need to be more self aware, like me. I’ll read a couple of books on this topic too. This will take time.

  3. Make others have the same enthusiasm as I do. It can’t be done directly. Enthusiasm and passion are contagious up to a point. I need to understand better which are the strengths, weaknesses and motivations of the people in my team. Then I can focus on creating the proper environment for enthusiasm to appear spontaneously. This will require patience.

  4. Give honest and true feedback to every member of the team. That won’t be possible if I don’t have a real connection with the members of my team. Building true relationships is hard. I’m starting an initiative called Honest coffee that’ll allow me to get to know better the people I work with. To be honest, my Feedback Canvas shouldn’ve been harsher.This will improve my feedback’s quality and the quality of the feedback my team gives me.

You should organize another Feedback Canvas session some months later. At least 3 months later. Not earlier. You need time to work on the feedback you just received. On the next session your team will mention that you have improved. And, ideally, they will focus their feedback on other topics.

Wrapping up

Feedback Canvas is a tool and, as any tool, you need to adapt it to your context. Here you can find another post explaining it differently and here you can find a different implementation of it.

The first sessions will be messy and you won’t see its the value immediately. Probably. Most companies are not used to give honest and direct feedback. A Feedback Canvas session may seem as a lot to begin with. But you need to start somewhere.

Huge thanks to undraw.com for the illustrations. You can subscribe to my newsletter With a grain of salt and receive an email with updates from time to time.