Round Table Reviews and the Six Things I Stand For as a Leader

By: January 23, 2017

As a follow up to Grace’s AWesome post sharing her experience with round table reviews from the perspective of a team member, I wanted to provide an additional post covering my perspective as a team lead.

Round table reviews neatly support five of my core values as a leader, which is why I advocated for them on the AWeber mobile team to begin with. Before I dive deeper into those values, let's quickly review the round table approach to reviews.

What are Round Table Reviews?

In a more typical review process, peer feedback is funneled through, or provided in isolation, from a manager to a team member. In round table reviews, an entire team gathers in a room to share feedback directly to the individual being reviewed. Feedback flows directly from team member to team member. This differs from the typical review where the manager is a middle-man or buffer between the team and the person receiving feedback.

This isn’t done without some guard rails to keep things on track and create a safe environment for giving and receiving feedback, however, which Grace concisely described in her post:

A facilitator makes sure each session follows the set structure. The only thing everyone else has to worry about is either providing feedback or listening to feedback. For these reviews, feedback is provided in the “start / stop / continue” format, which is an element that should be familiar to anyone doing sprints and retros in an agile organization. The person reviewed is only allowed to respond to feedback with “thank you.” Post-roundtable one-on-one meetings are also encouraged, in order to follow up on any feedback that required more discussion. And that was it.

Since this structure sets clear expectations for each team member, it helps create a safe environment for individuals to share and listen.

How These Reviews Represent the Six Things I Stand for as a Leader

1. Trust

I believe that trust is the foundational building block to a healthy team. With trust, collaborative relationships can reach the highest levels of function because it should be clear what everyone's motives are; it’s understood that what’s at face value really is the underlying truth. This is equally true for the relationship between a manager and any given team member, as well as relationships between the team members themselves.

I had a prior mentor provide this formula for trust to me:

Trust = Transparency + Truth

The formula suggests that for trust to be established between two parties, transparency and truth are key ingredients. And that's exactly what I hoped to achieve with round table reviews.

Our reviews happened face-to-face with the entire team sitting around a table together (hence the name!). As a result, it created a transparent environment where individuals knew exactly who provided feedback, since everyone spoke for themselves.

This also meant that each individual received feedback from every other person on the team. This is where the “truth” aspect of the equation became reinforced. Often, common themes in the feedback surfaced. A given person might have heard the same suggestion from several individuals, effectively corroborating the same feedback point. There was no other interpretation other than that the feedback received was the truth.

In this way, we were able to promote truthful, transparent feedback between individuals. And because that happened, it resulted in trust.

2. Recognition

I believe that the only thing more satisfying than a job well done is receiving praise and recognition for it. While there is personal reward and a sense of accomplishment when conquering a tough task, that feeling can be magnified exponentially with recognition from others. And if team members feel good about the work they are doing, they will want to continue succeeding – which leads them to succeed more often and in bigger ways, further amplifying the original success.

On the other hand, however, there’s little worse than feeling like you did a good job at something only to have it go unnoticed. As a leader, I believe there can be no shortage of recognition provided to the team. Furthermore, the more varied the recognition in its delivery, the better. Recognition channels should not become stale.

Round table reviews directly help team members feel recognized. Each individual who was reviewed heard firsthand accounts from other team members about what they did well during the year. This is the core of recognition – getting feedback from your peers as to how you made an impact.

Additionally, round table reviews were a uniquely new recognition channel for our team. We had never done them before as a team, so they only helped diversify how recognition happens.

3. Direct, Open Communication

I believe that communication is best delivered directly to the person who needs the information. Direct, open communication means there is no “middle person” who receives and relays information, or speaks on behalf of others.

There is no one better to share how they feel than the person who has the feeling. Any alternative to this means there's a chance information will be lost in translation. That can quickly lead to false assumptions and incorrect conclusions. Rather than risk this, I believe it's best to simply remove any intermediaries and have a direct conversation.

Round tables support my leadership core value of direct, open communication by providing a channel for feedback to flow directly from person to person. There is no filter or redirect in the middle of the feedback flow. Instead, the structure of these reviews allowed people to speak for themselves as they shared face-to-face feedback to others on the team.

4. Accountability

I believe in accountability between members on a team. Accountability isn’t something that should be isolated to the manager and team member's relationship. On the highest performing teams, accountability should exist between any two give people.

Each person is accountable to every other individual on the team to fulfill their commitments and promises. When this happens, it's easier for the team to identify if something was missed, and then figure out how to get the missed commitment back on track.

This is important because it provides a support structure for when things go awry. And as the team gets better at identifying issues and finding resolutions, it will help keep future commitments on track. After all, most people don’t want to let down their team.

Round table reviews directly support developing accountability within teams. They do this by encouraging team members to communicate with each other about times when they fell short.

While these conversations shouldn't be delayed until the end of the year, it's important to get into the habit of having these conversations more regularly – and our round tables helped set that expectation. By getting into the habit and practicing how to communicate about missed expectations, it will come more naturally overall.

5. Personal Growth

I believe that a cornerstone to an engaging workplace is enabling personal growth. While personal growth may have a lot of interpretations, I’m fine with any of them as long as they include the realization of self-improvement aligned with your professional trade. Not many people want to feel like they aren’t improving at their craft. Often, that leads to a feeling of staleness and unhappiness. Instead, it’s rewarding to be challenged to get better, and ultimately achieve that goal.

Sometimes it’s easy for an individual to self-identify their own growth areas. Unfortunately, this excludes perspective from colleagues. This is where round table reviews come to the rescue.

Round table reviews provide a safe environment for teammates to share feedback about opportunities for personal growth. Similar to accountability, I’m not suggesting that you wait until the end of the year to provide this feedback – you can have these conversations at any time. But by using the round table review session as practice to give this feedback, my hope is that it helped develop the team to share their thoughts on personal growth opportunities throughout the year.

6. Close-knit relationships

I believe that teams with trusting relationships will function at a higher level than teams that lack these relationships. When you are close to someone, you don’t want to let them down. You don’t want to fall short of their expectations, whether you're personally responsible to deliver something or offer help to your teammates.

Teams where members are close to one another will look out for each other. Basically, you want the best for someone you care about. When you see someone struggling or have an opportunity to do something better, the compassion developed through trust will ensure each team member is picked up by their teammates.

And finally, friends want friends to feel good. And what makes a person feel better than getting recognition from their friends for a job well done? Fortunately, this is also a virtuous cycle that grows with momentum. The closer teams get, the more likely they are to recognize each other's needs, which in turn brings them closer.

Round table reviews directly support developing close-knit relationships in a team by encouraging both suggestions for improvement and recognition of achievement.

In our round table reviews, each team member received direct, face-to-face feedback on what they did well that year, and where they could improve.

It certainly made me feel good to hear when a team member recognized an achievement of mine that made an impact. And likewise, it made me feel good to hear those opportunities where I could have done a better job. Doing so helped reinforce that my team member is really looking out for me to be the best person I can be. And when every round table review was over, we all felt much closer to each other.

New Year’s Challenge

My challenge as a team lead going into 2017 is to figure out how to translate what was an end-of-the-year event into something that will flourish and continue all year.

While I would do round table reviews again because they're great for instilling these healthy behaviors into a team, the next step is to spread the culture of candid feedback throughout the whole year.

Instead of waiting until the end of the year to provide feedback to others, team members should share their thoughts as close to the time of execution as possible. The more we do, the healthier our team will be.

We already got a taste for it, and I'm sure we can grow even more together with that collective mindset.

Do you have any experience with this? What has worked? What hasn’t? Leave your feedback in the comments.

Andy Obusek
Andy Obusek leads the Mobile Team at AWeber.