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I'm approaching the 1 year mark as a leader of a small development team (4 members, including myself) inside of a small software company. I'd like to give my team the opportunity to evaluate how I am doing as their team leader who is also a developer on the team.

I find it's hard to get good feedback with an open ended 'How am I doing?' question, so what specific questions are the most important to ask? Ideally I'd like to be able to provide 3 simple questions that my team would be able to answer. Which are the most important parts that you would like to give your team leader feedback on?

My initial thought was to allow my team to answer these questions anonymously? Is this a good idea?

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One question usually suffices as a start point: How are you? –  pdr May 25 '11 at 17:17
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8 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Anonymously is best... However, I would take them out to lunch 1 at a time. I would ask them what they think could be improved at the company and don't talk about yourself (You are the company from their perspective). I think a lot of this depends on how you interact with them. Feed back is best given informally and is best done by you watching what they complain about and over time.

If someone stops talking then I'm worried.

my 2c.

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1:1 meetings should have been done throughout a year. –  Job May 25 '11 at 16:59
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+1 for being unusually sane and normal. So tired of managers who honestly have no idea what is wrong. –  Satanicpuppy May 25 '11 at 18:01
    
& @Job I'd have to agree here. One-on-one personal talks asking about them, not you are easier and more in line with what a good manager should be doing, that is enabling the workers to get work done. My favorite managers have always been the ones who encourage you to stop by and chat about things or who come by not just to check status but to see how things are going in general. –  John Gaines Jr. May 25 '11 at 18:13
    
Definitely no go for the anonymous. –  Denis May 25 '11 at 19:52
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Where I work there have been "Stop, start, continue" meetings about managers and team leads that seem to work well as a place to give feedback that the terms could be translated into questions like this:

  • What would you like the team lead to stop doing that should be stopped?

  • What would you like the team lead to start doing that isn't happening right now?

  • What would you like the team lead to continue doing that is working well?

The idea is for the team to discuss without the manager or team lead present so that consensus can be built in terms of how various practices are viewed. Perhaps someone really likes the team lead bringing in cookies each week and someone dislikes it strongly, just to give a simple example.

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+1 Good approach, but I always like to do the order of Start, Stop, Continue. The Stop feedback is essentially a criticism and is easier to swallow if it is in the middle. –  maple_shaft May 25 '11 at 17:17
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Anonymously is good, but perhaps letting a third party ask them would be better. At my last company, the office manager conducted the 1 on 1 Q&A and she compiled all the results. Slight twist is that everyone was asked to the questions about each team member, so it wasn't just a manager thing. The manager had more questions though.

Some questions to ask:

  • What does $person do well?
  • What could $person improve upon?
  • What would you like $person to do more often?
  • What would you like $person to stop doing?
  • How do you like working with $person?
  • Does $person make you feel like part of the team?
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Excellent list. I will borrow you What would you like $person to stop doing? –  user2567 May 25 '11 at 19:45
    
Definitely no go for the anonymous. –  Denis May 25 '11 at 19:57
    
Was the '$person' reference a nod to the fact that @Willy Lawless is a PHP developer? ;) –  Jim G. Feb 27 '12 at 6:27
    
That would have been awfully perceptive!... If only my name was Willy... –  Wally Lawless Mar 9 '12 at 15:45
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I do that frequently, and I never got much honest answers when I ask how I perform or what they think about my way of managing, leading, coaching, whatever.

So I started to ask this question instead:

What do you think I could improve in my way of (insert activity)?

I get much more honest and valuable feedback with that question.

One last tip: some persons are more stressed at the beginning of the meeting and are in defensive mode. If they stay in defensive mode, they will be less chatty. Start the discussion with informal stuff and show you are in good mood. Once you see he or she is relaxed, ask the question.

When I do that with a person for the first time, I do a short speech on why I'm seeking feedback and why I'm more interested by how I could improve things than what I do well.

Do those 1 to 1 meetings very frequently. Every month is perfect.

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You've been with them for a year and you have no idea what they think? Start gathering all of the little comments, concerns, good and bad situations you've picked up on in the last year and offer your perspective. Their feedback will let you know if you are correct. Ideally you want to keep it in the context of things you can control. No sense in going through salary if you are in no position to change it.

If they are reluctant, help focus on areas of: do they have the right tools, are expectations too high/low, how do they get along with others at work. Employees who make friends tend to stick around.

On a side note: If they have a problem and you make an attempt to solve it, follow up and ask if they were satisfied. Could you have done anything different? Basic show you care stuff.

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Definitely don't ask for anonymous input.

Start with an open question with a big smile. One that implies that you're bad and ready to cope with whichever answer you'll get. e.g. "How do I suck as a lead dev?" This will immediately abort any inhibitions.

Then ask an open question: "OK, so I do/don't suck. How could I improve what I'm currently doing?"

And do so in a meeting (preferably around a beer in a not-work environment). Absolutely not by writing.

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I think that the two most important functions of a leader or manager are to remove obstacles that prevent the team from doing its work, and to provide filtered access to information about the rest of the company. In that vein, I'd ask the following questions, regularly:

How are you doing?

If the programmer is happy, he'll tell you. If he's not, this question can tell you what obstacles he is facing. If you're dealing with them already, then you're doing well. If you're not, then you've got more work to do.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Find out what goals your team has, and how they think they are doing to meet them. This can be as simple as a list of projects they want to start within your current project, or more long term goals for self improvement and development. If you know these already, and are helping them develop, then you're doing well. If you haven't found these out, then you have work to do.

What do you think about what the company is doing?

Here, you will find out whether you've been doing a good job of explaining your team their place within the context of the rest of company.

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Note that there is significant value in having a consistent set of questions to ask, and in asking them fairly regularly. Your team members will learn what questions you'll ask them, and will see that their answers have an effect. That can help getting them thinking about their answers in advance, before the next time you ask them. –  blueberryfields May 25 '11 at 21:35
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Ask both open ended questions and specific/targeted questions. Also, keep in mind you want to find ways to improve/mitigate your weaknesses not celebrate your strengths. You should be able to determine who can give you honest feedback and who remain a bit guarded. Keep asking those who can give you the hard feedback periodically, and keep working to have that relationship with the whole team.

Open Ended questions:

Asked anonymously and over a longer period of time (e.g. every 6 months)

  • List three things I do well and want me to keep doing
  • List three things I don't do so well and want me to change

Asked face to face over a longer period of time (e.g. every 6 months)

  • To date (or this month/year) my biggest contribution to the team has been (I don't always ask this
  • To date (or this month/year) my biggest mis-step has been

Asked face to face over a longer period of time (e.g. every 6 months)

  • If you could change one thing about the team, what would it be?

Targeted questions:

I find that some times the introvert nature of developers shines through and asking open ended questions actually limits the feedback. So I generally try to find 3-4 things I don't think I'm doing well at, and 3-4 things I'm not sure about and 3-4 things I -think- I'm doing well at. I ask people to rate me on a 5 point scale and provide additional details. Sometimes these are things like "Risk taking" or "Listening" sometimes they are things like "How did I handle the estimation meetings?" I almost always ask these anonymously.

In all cases, you must must share the feedback you collect with the team members and talk to them about how you are going to try to work on your weaknesses. Collecting the data and keeping it secret kills the whole process.

hope this helps!

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