How to do appraisals: asking the team

Mini Marshal by mpeterke at flickr
Feedback comes from these - image by mpeterke

Part of my new role is to review and appraise the team. Given that there are a lot of them and I can’t spend enough time with each of them (and nor would I want to) to be able to do a good review, I figured that I’d have them do 360 reviews. There are multiple ways to do this, which I outline below, but I didn’t pick one for my team, I let them vote (I also let them post any new review methods they knew of in order they could vote for those too) – can you guess which they voted for?


The traditional approach is an anonymous review: I pick several people to review the employee, they craft and submit reviews and then I deliver this feedback to the reviewee.

This sucks on multiple levels:

  • Suppose the reviewee disagrees with some of the feedback, how can they offer a rebuttal? To me? How does that help?
  • What happens if they don’t understand the context of the feedback?
  • What happens if, in the name of keeping the feedback anonymous, I remix the feedback and lose the actual message (but I don’t know I’ve done that)?
  • We work in tight scrum teams, this means that the BEST people to offer feedback, are the other people on the team (also the product owner and potentially stakeholders, but we’ll come to that), this means that, after the review, the employee goes back to their desk, possibly seething or feeling dejected, put upon or just miserable because of the above but they KNOW that someone in their team gave them shitty feedback.
  • Sucks, right?
This doesn’t suck because:
  • The shy, or sociopathic might feel they can be more honest if they don’t have to do it face to face.
  • The feedback won’t be bland.
  • There is no fear of retribution (unless they find out who it was).

Not anonymous

So, another option is to have the reviewee choose the people they want to review them. No. This also sucks:

  • They might pick people who don’t really have much to do with the and would offer a good, although bland, feedback.
  • Again, they have no chance of rebuttal or dialogue there and then to discuss context of the feedback unless …
  • …they go back to their desk knowing that one of their team gave them shitty feedback and now aren’t sure how to broach the subject.

This doesn’t suck because:

  • Same as the above.

Team 360

The whole team goes to the pub (or cafe, whatever) and they take it turns to offer feedback on each other. Starting with me as a warmup so they don’t feel shy when it’s there turn (this is great for me, I’ll get LOADS of feedback). You go round the table one at a time and everyone on the team feeds back to me – positive and negative – and write it all down. Then someone else volunteers and so on until everyone has had a go.

Developers drinking...

You need trust in the team for this and a good bond. This isn’t going to work with a new (or a ‘forming’) team and I’d advise something different (not the above, maybe just one-to-one coaching until the team are up to cruising altitude). But for established teams, or those stuck in a retrospective rut, I think this is a great idea.

I’ve run one trial of this method before putting it out to vote and the team had some positive feedback on the process (and each other!). It’s tough to do, but giving and receiving feedback is always tough, and the idea of doing it face-to-face with people you work with every day is challenging, but you should do it. Nut up and prove to your peers that you’re a grown up and can and need to learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before. This is about improving yourself in ways you didn’t know you could improve and making sure you’re not annoying your team. 😉

This idea isn’t new, although I wish I’d thought of it, I originally read it in Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appello (the book is good, as are his talks, but his slides suck – well, he does draw them with MS Paint…)

What about … ?

Well, I mentioned product owners and stakeholders above. I’m undecided yet (but, I’ll probably let the team decide) on whether to include product owners in a team 360. They do spend a lot of time with the time and can probably offer some good feedback – it does depend on the relationship with the PO. Even though we don’t foster the feeling (and, Affiliate Window isn’t alone in this I’m sure) there’s a little ‘them’ and ‘us’ between the developers and the product team – but maybe this is a good start in breaking down that status quo.

Also, for stakeholders, having those in the team 360 would be pointless – they don’t have day-to-day dealings with the team, mostly it’s just input and output with the odd nudge in between, but we need their input. This is what the release retrospective is for but I’ll cover that in another post!

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