Get Feedback When You Can

We will have a couple of training sessions soon for a bunch of developers and testers coming over from Vietnam to bravely sit through three weeks of (probably pretty hardcore) training with us. All training sessions are held by our very own developers, testers, managers and product managers, so it will be a busy time for all of us.

During the initial meeting to talk about how sessions should run and be prepared the question of having feedback questionnaires at the end of each session came up. It got a bit heated shortly, and I’m not sure where the jury is on that right now.

However, thinking about it and having heard arguments from each side, I can say that I’m still very much in favor of getting feedback after a training session.

Here’s what I heard from the con side. I also did fill in my fair share of feedback questionnaires, so I know where these arguments are coming from:

1. Nobody likes filling out the form. It takes time, you want to go home rather than mark where on a scale from 1 to 6 you’d say the trainer would rank in terms of preparation or being able to answer questions or how you liked the conference room the training took place.

2. The results are usually not very useful. Especially with highly standardized questionnaires answers tend to be on the non-specific side.

3. We’re not trainers, we’re developers. Training people is not part of our daily job, so why should we be taking extra care in getting any feedback in how we’re doing?

There are a couple more arguments and believe me, I get them all. I still believe that we should try to come up with a way to get valuable feedback and here’s why:

1. If you’re doing a training and you don’t get feedback, how will you be able to learn? How can you be sure that what you did was okay, maybe even really good? How can you know that what you thought you were teaching really was what came across? Unless you’re really good at reading facial expressions or minds, you won’t. And while it’s true that you cannot be completely sure that anonymous feedback is sincere, it’s most likely your safest bet at getting an honest feedback.

2. You need to give the participants of your training a possibility to give feedback. It’s only fair to them. And yes, you could go around asking each of them for their opinion. One bet says that it’s going to take longer than giving out feedback questionnaires. Another bet says that if it doesn’t take longer then it’s because people are too polite to tell you the truth.

(In fact, if you think you don’t need feedback or that your training participants don’t need it or both, it sounds to me like you don’t really care about your job as a trainer. Which makes me wonder whether you should be doing this. I might be wrong. Or I might not.)

3. Deciding against getting feedback because in your experience feedback questionnaires are boring to fill out and don’t provide any valuable results is just the easy way out. If that’s the problem – and I agree that it often is – then, by all means, come up with good questions. Nobody’s telling you how to get the best feedback you can get, all I’m saying is that you should get it.

In our situation I have suggested coming up with a very short questionnaire that has no more than three or four questions. The first thing to do is find out what the most important thing we need to know is and then ask questions that are impossible to answer with a simple yes or no. One such question could be:

What was the most useful thing you learned in this session?

Another one could be:

If you could change one thing for the next group of participants for this session, what would it be?

Yes, you could still write „Everything“ and „Nothing“ respectively as an answer, but you would have to think about it for a moment. Asking these question also means that as a trainer you’re assuming that you’re not perfect and put participants more at ease with pointing out possible faults. If you’re out to get the truth, try to ask questions that make being a bit critical and giving honest opinions feel okay and natural.

And don’t overwhelm the participants with two pages of boring 1 to 6 scales or intimidating questions with no clear indication of their purpose. Ask questions that are easy to answer while still providing useful feedback to the trainers and giving the participants a chance to give a final evaluation of what they had to sit through for four hours (or more).

It’s only fair. That’s all I’m saying.

2 Gedanken zu „Get Feedback When You Can“

  1. Yes yes and yes, having anything is better than having no feedback at all. Ignorance might be bliss, but if you don’t learn you’re damned to repeat your mistakes (as we have learned from Battlestar Galactica).

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