How We’re Making It Easier (and More Fun!) to Give Teammates Feedback

Jul 11, 2022


Alto Pharmacy

Receiving feedback from your manager or coworkers can be scary. Giving them feedback can be even scarier. It’s why many companies lack a culture of regular feedback and rely instead on a stress-inducing biannual performance review cycle.

One of Alto’s company values is “communicate with candor.” To make sure we live by this value, we recently set out to make peer feedback more frequent, honest, and fun. Here’s how it went.

Introducing Speedback

Earlier this year, Alto’s patient care team hosted its first Speedback session, inspired by a Thoughtworks idea of the same name.

Speedback is simple:

  • Set aside a dedicated hour for team members to give feedback to one another.

  • Group participants into pairs and have multiple rounds. Each round lasts four minutes, giving both participants two minutes to speak.

  • Change pairs after each round, ensuring that each participant meets once with every other. 

  • Each round begins with highlighting what the feedback recipient is excelling at, then noting opportunities for improvement.

By creating a fun format for discussions and encouraging constructive criticism, we hoped to take the fear out of feedback and give every participant valuable and actionable insights.

Preparing for the first Speedback

Because Speedback rounds are, well, speedy, it was important that the team came prepared.

A week before the session, every team member identified specific areas they wanted to improve in, from communicating more effectively to keeping coworkers motivated. These were then posted in Lattice, an HR tool we use at Alto, for everyone else to see.

Over the next week, team members reviewed one another’s feedback requests and brainstormed suggestions to share on Speedback day. If a team member wanted tips for writing cleaner code, other Speedback participants could look through past code review sessions for examples.

Since Alto is a remote-first company, the team also had to plan for a virtual Speedback session. We used Zoom breakout rooms, which include helpful features such as countdown timers for the rounds.

So, how did Speedback go?

After some initial finicking with Zoom, the team quickly got into a groove. Each participant received valuable feedback from every other, which they used to grow over the next few months.

Feedback was also cross-functional. Engineers received feedback from product managers, and product managers received feedback from engineers. Managers received feedback from their reports and vice versa.

“With the feedback I received, I realized that each person responds best to slightly different communication styles,” says Patient Care Engineering Manager Nick Helvig. “It’s helped me better understand and collaborate with the entire team.”

The team’s first Speedback session occurred two months before Alto’s annual performance review cycle. This gave participants valuable information to use for improvement, as well as documentation of their strengths, weaknesses, and growth.

As one team member put it, “What I appreciate most about Speedback is the opportunity to get super clear on where both you and your teammates are looking to improve. It’s also a great way to track your progress and see how far you’ve come in the past two months, the past year.”

Next steps

Patient Care has since made Speedback a ritual every two months.

To make sure there is useful follow-up to prior feedback, the team has adjusted the timing of rounds from four minutes to six. The first two minutes are now dedicated to revisiting items from the last session, allowing participants to reflect on their progress as well as remaining opportunities for improvement.

Curious to give Speedback a try? Start by putting three blocks of time on your team’s calendar: the Speedback session, a reminder to request feedback for yourself, and a reminder to prepare feedback for others.

Ultimately, Speedback does a lot more than make feedback less scary — it integrates regular, honest discussions into a company’s culture. We hope you’ll find it as helpful as we have!