Two teammates giving each other structured, helpful feedback. Futuristic setting. Continuous improvement

Giving Structured Feedback

Marc Simard
July 13, 2023

I had the privilege of working at McKinsey (a global management consultancy) for a handful of years. There, I led teams assembled from colleagues from around the world, serving global clients. Engagements were short - we’d work together from a few weeks to some months. It was therefore critical that we gave each other feedback quickly, iterated, and improved - both as a team and as individual professionals.

In modern organizations, engineering team composition also changes quickly. Teams are spun up for a specific initiative. Fast-growing companies can double their headcount in a year. Many engineers change roles and/or employers often.

I believe that McKinsey’s framework for giving structured feedback is useful to many of us leading teams of builders. It’s not complicated, but it works.

When you did A, it made me feel B. In the future, I would recommend you do C

The structured feedback format:

This structured feedback approach grounds the conversation. No more generic statements like “you need to be more assertive”, but specific conversations like “during our latest spike review, you quickly backed down when the senior engineer questioned your proposed data architecture. I felt like you had more to say, and wished you had explained your reasoning more. In the future, I’d recommend that you take the time to share the factors that you considered when making your recommendation before deferring to the more senior team member. We have a lot to learn from your work”.

Beyond this framework - and perhaps more importantly - it is critical to actually care about the development of the person you’re sharing feedback with. The goal isn’t to critique, but to grow together! Make this explicit.

Finally, some people prefer to receive feedback in the moment. Others find this distracting and prefer batching it in 1-on-1’s. Both work, as long as it happens. Be clear on everyone’s preferences upfront, and make sure you receive feedback as a manager too.

Take care,

- Marc