Planning or designing sessions for the team is a very important skill for a Scrum Master. These team activities (or events help) focus on improving the way of working within the team, encouraging team bonding, exploring new possibilities, or learning new skills.
In the below article I will share my experience designing a session for my team, “How to create feedback opportunities.” I have tried to explain my thought process behind the session's structure and goals.
There is no one recipe for creating feedback opportunities; it is a terrain that we need to keep exploring and uncover new ways of providing and receiving feedback.
I have said it multiple times, and will continue to do so in the future, but feedback is a very powerful tool and when utilised correctly, it can help accelerate growth. Constructive feedback also allows us to identify our blindspots and continue improving. A blindspot is something we are unaware of but is vital for our growth.
The first part of the article describes how to design a workshop. This is an important skill that a Scrum Master needs to develop for experimenting and learning. Workshops provide opportunities for participants to explore, learn, unlearn and experience new ideas, topics, or areas of development.
Talking about the topic: How to create feedback opportunities
This topic came up during one of the Scrum Master’s conversations. Being a feedback enthusiast I suggested doing a session on this topic and volunteered to design and facilitate it. This was one of the first sessions that I would be designing from scratch. I have facilitated many existing activities but this was the first of its kind. My main goal was to explore ideas about creating feedback opportunities for individuals and teams. Rather than inventing something new, I wanted to give everyone a platform to share what they do at the individual, team, or company levels to provide and receive feedback. Can we learn from each other, share our experience and create those opportunities for feedback? Feedback needs to be part of the company and team culture. The question is, can Scrum Masters assist, coach, or help the process of creating and adopting a feedback culture
Focus on the outcome: When designing a session/workshop
The most crucial aspect to consider while planning a session is the outcome. What do we want to get out of it?
I intended this session to be more of an open discussion, but I wanted the participants to address their feelings towards feedback before we got started. When we address our feelings, we become more conscious of the positive and negative aspects of feedback we associate with it.
With all these thoughts running through my head, I started brainstorming for the 60-minute session.
Starting with small creative activities allows participants to disconnect from their current thoughts and become more present in the session. I chose the "Think outside the box" activity which promotes creative thinking. A quick 5-minute activity to get things started.
Time management is a very important aspect of designing a session. Allocating realistic time frames for the activities is important, and adhering to the defined timelines is critical. I decided to break the session into two parts. The first is where the participants get to express their emotions attached to the feedback.
The second part of the session somehow feels like being under the pressure of the ticking clock, and I wanted to relieve this anxiety for me, as the facilitator, and for my participants, so that we could focus more on deriving value rather than being distracted with time management.
The structure of the feedback session
1. Check-in - Let's keep the distracting thoughts aside and pick them up when we leave the room.
A gentle reminder to the participants to pause and try to be there in that room physically, mentally, and emotionally.
2. Setting expectations with the audience - What to expect during the next 55 min. The participants are not kept guessing and are provided with a rough blueprint of the session.
3. Think out of the box activity - 5 min. Creative or short fun activities bring the participant's mind to the present moment.
4. How do we feel about feedback? (2 min for writing and 15 min for discussion)
- Describe in one word what you feel when you hear the word feedback (you can add multiple stickies but just one word describing how you feel about it. For example - happy, sad, anxious, curious).
- Grouping the feeling in positive, and negative aspects and everything that lies between the two extremes.
- Trying to find the answer to why it makes you feel in that certain way. It will help uncover some aspects of feedback. How to give or receive feedback, so that we are mindful of the negative aspect and focus on the positive aspect during feedback exchange.
What we should not talk about
Parking lot - Calling out when the discussion gets derailed and parking those topics for later discussion.
This is very critical for a facilitator to keep the discussion on track and call out when you identify it is getting derailed. The other important thing to keep in mind is that not all these topics are noise; some might be good points that can be parked for future discussions.
Putting the pieces together
Let's talk - Add questions to a mystery bowl and let them pick and discuss in the group. Take notes on interesting insights ( 20 min). At the end of the discussion write down your conclusion and share it with the team (5 min)
The best part of this activity is that it doesn’t put any pressure on how many questions we discussed. The main focus is on what value was derived. The team could discuss one or any number of questions listed below within that time frame. This cleared my mind of the rush and I could calmly pay full attention to the discussion. I switched my attention from the clock to the conversation. The added advantage was that all of the questions were interesting and I couldn’t come to a conclusion about which 2 or 3 questions I should start with. The team randomly picked the question from the mystery bowl and started talking. At the end of this, every participant was asked to share what was their take away (Outcome).
Feedback related questions added to the mystery bowl:
- How often do you ask for feedback?
- How often do you give feedback?
- Have you created any opportunities for the team to provide feedback?
- What do you do to make sure the team gives and receives feedback?
- What cues help provide feedback (visual cues, explicit questions, audio, or video clips, etc.)?
- What, according to you, is feedback culture? Do we really have a feedback culture?
- How can you create feedback opportunities?
The role of the Scrum Master is like an elastic band; it can stretch and go in various directions. I like to uncover new opportunities and face new challenges to grow. This contributes to making me a better scrum master. Designing a workshop from scratch and facilitating it is an amazing possibility that I got to experience.