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How to Get Honest Feedback From Your Team

How to Get Honest Feedback From Your Team

Getting honest feedback in your retrospective meetings is vital to effective work. However, it often happens that your team members are not forthcoming about their concerns. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but anxiety about voicing opposition at work or being critical of colleagues can hamper open debate. As a facilitator, it’s essential that you create a safe place for ideas to flow and for team members to open up about improvements.

Creating a safe space can be enough of a challenge in person but can be even more difficult on distributed teams. It’s easier for participants to fade into the background and not contribute to video chats. It’s also harder to read a room when it’s all on a screen.

Encourage Feedback

It’s important to encourage your team to clearly express their opinions on the sprint. In these situations, reassure the team that the opinions in the retro stay inside the retro and that that barrier is sacred. Honest feedback is the most valuable commodity in a retrospective so it’s essential that you help your team give it.

Honest doesn’t have to mean positive. An agile team should mainly focus on clearly defined problems and help the team improve as a whole. Of course, it is essential to honestly evaluate the progress of the activities to help the team understand why some activities worked and others did not. Each member should remember that all opinions are for the benefit of the team as a whole — and that all team members did the best they could with the resources and limitations of the previous sprint. This is the Agile prime directive[link], which can help frame discussion in positive and constructive terms.

The team as a unit should focus on learning and understanding instead of placing blame. After all, these meetings are for making corrections, not pointing fingers. In that kind of toxic atmosphere, no one would like to share their thoughts for fear of provoking an unpleasant argument that goes nowhere. To prevent toxicity, it’s good to appoint a facilitator who guides the discussion and keeps the team on task. A check-in round can help keep the meeting order and give everyone a chance to speak. During the rounds, participants are free to say anything because the goal is to get everyone to participate actively in the meeting. It also gives everyone a chance to gauge the mood of others.

When and how to salvage a situation

If people are not being forthcoming with you, you’ll likely notice. Why is that? Perhaps the reason is not that serious and your colleagues are just tired, but it is possible that they can’t admit that they don’t like something. Keep in mind that just because someone doesn't like something, doesn't mean it's wrong. In this situation,  ask your team what needs work. Another reason may be the team's attitude towards you, not your job. Have you ever rejected your colleagues' advice? Or maybe you can’t take criticism, which is why nobody will speak up. This practice may adversely affect team morale, motivation and productivity.

You’re here to encourage others to be honest and look for the things they want to change. There is no need to take offense at yourself for objective criticism. You need to build a common understanding for the sake of the final version that you want to be as good as possible. You are working for common goals, not individual tasks. Don't give the impression that you are immune to a bit of truth.

Another seemingly easy task for the group is to create a friendly working atmosphere and a safe place for open discussions. If people in the meeting don’t feel safe, they won’t share valuable thoughts about their work. Creating a pleasant atmosphere and motivating everyone to express their opinion should not be left to the moderator of the meeting only. Participants add their contributions, and each is valid. Part of creating a safe space to get honest feedback is to seal the retrospective meeting and its contents off from outside interference. This can be tough if there’s pressure from upper management to share findings, but you should insist that the content of a retro is privileged speech. This builds a sense of security for people who may be afraid to voice concerns or suggest better ways of working.

Obviously, starting retrospective meetings with a brief reminder of the prime directive and that any criticisms or concerns don’t leave the meeting is a good way to start. New members should also get clear directions and reassurances that the retro is a safe place to give honest feedback.


To sum up, honest feedback is much more valuable to your team and the organization as a whole than the alternative. Yes men can cause the organization to lose productivity and competitive advantage. Collecting only insincere praise, you’re not able to locate errors, mistakes or introduce significant corrections. That’s the whole point of an agile retrospective — to make ourselves and others aware of what needs improvement. What’s working? What’s not working? How can we improve? If you don’t want to choose an organizer of the meeting from among you, introduce the principle of speaking in turn, do not allow the meeting to be silent. Connect with colleagues, reassure them that they can express their views on your work, and allow yourself to express constructive criticism.

There is no reason to take criticism personally, you have to trust your team to do it for the sake of your common project. It’s not possible to build a safe space immediately, but it can be worked out with the proper involvement of each team member. Don't act unavailable and don't treat others as competitors. Safe spaces that prioritize honest feedback improve company culture and help build lean teams that innovate rather than languish in unproductive work. Getting this valuable feedback takes autonomy and leadership to reassure your team. Creating space for open debate and discussion will help you improve your sprints and meet the goals you set.