Trialling a non-hierarchical Team Review Process
Over December and January the Open Food Network UK team have been exploring a team review process in line with our values. In this post I describe the process we trialled and offer some reflections and learnings from the experience.
We aim to structure our team and work in a non-hierarchical way. Of course, this is impossible for many reasons. Some people have been in the team longer and have more knowledge and experience. Some people have more responsibility with funders and in partnerships. Some people work more days per week. Some have kids and schools are closed. Some have higher levels of education. Various kinds of privilege reveal themselves in many ways.
Hierarchies exist in groups and in organisations and denying they exist is worse than deliberately structuring your organisation with ‘leaders’ and ‘subordinates’. So it is a constant aim to create non-hierarchical structures and processes within the team and to help each other see in ourselves when we are acting in a way that is hierarchical — either taking power from others or handing it to others.
Working in a non-hierarchical way is a key value in the OFN work environment, but as the team grows it is increasingly hard to nurture this way of working while still serving our community. Our team review process is an opportunity to operationalise these values.
Our Review Process
Our imaginary friend Jane will help illustrate.
- Every team member receives an individual Team Review form with 3 questions:
- What should Jane do more of?
- What should Jane do less of?
- What should Jane keep doing?
- Next every team member was invited to fill in the Team Review form for anyone they worked with. Most people filled it in for the 3 or 4 people.
- Everyone received their feedback and had time to process it
- We then had a running agenda item in our team meetings for a few weeks involving a round of ‘Sparkles’ and a ‘Pledge’ for each team member.
Every person in the team offers the team member Sparkles — ways this person shines. What do you value about working with Jane?
Then the team member offers their Pledge to the team. This is a commitment for the year ahead, for yourself and the team.
Overall in our 10 person team the process took about an hour on the part of each person to fill in their colleagues forms. It then took 20 minutes out of 3 team meetings to do the ‘Sparkles’ and ‘Pledges’. A total of two hours per person to give and receive feedback. This is a sizeable commitment of time, but the outcomes of the process already feel worth this investment.
The process was completely experimental and I’m sharing it because I was surprised by how effective it was in ways I did not expect. The following are my reflections on why the process proved to be powerful:
1. It is growth orientated.
This is not a time to dwell on mistakes. It takes the assumption that we are our own worst enemy and instead aims to encourage people to step into their strengths.
2. It is accountable
My first intuition was to make the feedback anonymous. I thought people would be shy about saying useful things if the person reading knew who sent it. In the end we agreed to have an optional name field. Every single person used the field voluntarily to connect their name with their feedback.
3. It is constructive
I was actually surprised at how honest people were in their feedback. People really took the time to write considered responses with constructive feedback to help the working dynamic. No one took the opportunity to attack or chastise, and instead used it as an opportunity to share areas of potential expansion and growth.
4. It is nourishing
I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who did not feel like an imposter in the workplace. Of course this isn’t just women, the vast majority of us don’t have the absurd level of self belief that Eton students seem to embody. I’ve seen over and over, in myself and in others, how this self doubt decimates my ability to bring my most committed, enthusiastic and creative self to my professional life. As a small organisation trying to do big things, I want everyone to bring as much of themselves as possible.
5. It is team building
For the people giving the Sparkles feedback the exercise is a practice in gratitude. I’m sure that colleagues can be frustrating in any work situation, particularly when there is more work than can be done and times of high stress. So taking the time to remember why we like working with each other and what is great about working with each other is a powerful act.
6. It is confidence building
Every single person in the team thought that this sounded like a horrible exercise when they first heard about it. Even this is striking. No one wanted to be told what was great about working with them. But everyone in the team has commented on how powerful it was afterwards.
1. Some people in the team felt less committed to the process at the outset and did not complete feedback for people. In part I put this down to trying out a new process that many thought sounded crazy. However I realised that a little more team buy in at the start would have been a good idea.
2. People really struggled with pledges. Most people took this as a time to respond to feedback. While this was partially the point, I intended the pledge to be more of a commitment to oneself and one’s work. A manifesto for your year. Ideas on how you want to grow. I will work on the framing of this next time.
3. Every person wanted to give sparkly bits for every other person. That instantly became the default. I didn’t expect this before starting and thought that perhaps only a few people would give their sparkles for each person. This meant that the exercise took more time than originally planned but the boost in team morale seems to be very, very worthwhile.