How We Foster Open Dialogue Through Intentional Feedback

  • October 31, 2022
  • The Gnar Company
  • 4 min read

Does the phrase “annual review” make you tense up? Or do you find yourself relaxed, maybe even excited with the anticipation of new opportunities? An employee’s answer to this question can say a lot about the culture of the company they're working for. It can also be a pretty good indicator of whether they have a more open or closed work environment.

At The Gnar, we foster an open work culture, where employees feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback, sharing ideas, and looking for opportunities to grow.

How do we do this? First, by creating formats that support and encourage open dialogue.

Feedback Formats

Annual Reviews

Employees meet with co-founders Nick and Mike in a casual, conversational format to talk through projects they’ve been working on, areas they want to improve, and what’s been exciting them lately. 

Monthly 1:1s

Monthly 1:1 meetings are led by our Director of People Operations Lead, Heather, who creates a safe environment for checking in, sharing feedback, and chatting on a more personal level. 

90-Day Feedback

After 90 days on the job, a new hire’s teammates are asked to complete an anonymous survey on their performance, which is then shared and reviewed with the new hire in their next monthly 1:1. 

Daily Feedback

We hold daily company-wide, daily check-ins where team members can share challenges, request help from the broader team, and discuss what they are excited about. From an engineering perspective, as part of our code review process, employees give and receive detailed feedback on each other’s work. This is a key way we leverage collaboration to improve our code on a daily basis.

Weekly Team Retros

Retrospective meetings take place every Thursday over lunch. We gather in a large group to discuss the company as a whole and take turns suggesting ways to improve processes. 

Project Retros

After an engagement has ended, the project team gets together to review the project as a whole and discuss potential process improvements. This ensures all team members have a chance to contribute and feel heard. 

Process Retros 

Periodically, we review specific processes to gauge effectiveness and tease out any potential improvements. For example, we recently revisited the format of our daily company-wide check-ins to ensure they still work with an expanding group.  

Suggestion Ox

Suggestion Ox is a simple tool an employee can use to submit feedback anonymously. While our team tends to share publicly, it’s important to have this option available should there ever be a time or situation that feels uncomfortable.

Feedback Culture

Setting the Tone

Creating the container to share feedback is step one, but even more crucial is fostering a culture that makes giving and receiving feedback comfortable. At the core, The Gnar’s non-hierarchical structure and “low ego” ethos lends well to creating this dynamic. On top of that, our code review process, which we practice daily, encourages a collaborative, non-dogmatic, brainstorming-style approach to giving and receiving feedback.

In our Team Retros, each team member has a chance to share what has been going well, what could use improvement, and how we might adjust processes to make those improvements. As a rule, we hear each other out completely and never respond to another person’s point with an argument. This encourages people to share more authentically and more often by ensuring everyone feels safe to share their full opinion without judgment. 

Even in Annual Reviews (the most formal of The Gnar’s feedback formats) Mike and Nick use the time as a coaching opportunity, celebrating accomplishments and providing specific guidance on challenges based on their own experience. 

Mike helps guide me, he doesn’t just tell me what to do. He leads by example

-Taylor Kearns, software developer  

Following Up

If employees are being encouraged to share suggestions for improvement, it's important they see those improvements actually being implemented. The goal, after all, is more than simply hearing each other out, but making our organization better as a result. 

At the end of each Team Retro, we review specific action items and assign them to the appropriate team members to implement. Nick and Mike are open to trying new things and will give most suggestions a shot, at least as a trial to see how it goes. As a result, many changes have come out of Team Retros, including company policy changes.

Here are a few examples:

  • Adjustments to holidays and parental leave
  • Implementation of regular events, such as project demos, coffee hour, happy hour, and “Show the Codez,” a monthly meetup where we showcase code we’re excited about
  • Scheduling numerous brown bag presentations on technical topics
  • Hiring guest speakers
  • Code review strategies
  • Updates to the new candidate simulation and interview process

Shaping the Future

An idea we come back to all the time is that culture is not dictated from the top, but formed as a result of every employee’s unique contribution. When we hire, we search for culture adds, not culture fits.

Sharing, absorbing, and making changes based on feedback is one of the key ways we bring our culture to life here at The Gnar. New processes, methodologies, and policies are a direct result of the people who suggest and implement them. As a result, it is the employees themselves who shape the future of The Gnar. 

Learn more about The Gnar and our team.