Stretching the boundaries of appraisal processes

Experiments with a collective appraisal process

Note: this blog has been in my drafts for 6 years, originally written in 2016! I’’m not sure what the blocker to sharing it was, but on a quick re-read and knowing appraisal season is coming up, I’m sharing now in case it is useful for anyone looking to iterate the traditional appraisal process to be more relational.

In an era of self managing teams — or those that have aspirations to be more so, my hunch is we need to get better at collective feedback processes.

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At the Forum for the Future- System Change Lab (that existed between 2011–2017) we’ve been experimenting with morphing our own working practices to a more self organising and ‘teal’ approach. One aspect of that was looking at the standard appraisal process.

At Forum we have a standard appraisal process already, seeking 360 feedback from those you work with and being delivered by a line manager. But as a team we were curious about what a more relational and systemic appraisal might look and feel like and found that Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organisations’ provided helpful ideas on how other organisations have made this work. Not content with reading the theory and practice of others, we decided to put it into practice at the end of 2016.

We want to try and conduct appraisals in a more adult-adult/teal way; Experiment with a new process for appraisals/learning/skill development; See if face to face feedback helps to make us more efficient and to grow as a team and to conduct a co-inquiry that goes beyond an objective evaluation.

We spent a day together, out of the office. We were a team of 6 people at the time.
It started with an extended check in and laying some ground rules (we used from the CoResolve process really helped to create a safe space thanks Carrina Gaffney for sharing these with us):

Ground (safety) rules:

  • We are committed to each others development and growth
  • We want to stay in relationship with each other
  • Nobody has the whole truth
  • There is wisdom in the minority
  • We each have a responsibility to take what we wish to learn from this experiment (ok, we added this one)

Then each person (in a random order) had an hour of time dedicated to them, roughly breaking down as:

20 mins — The ‘appraisee’ shares their reflections on where they are and thoughts on the year. (based on the 3 questions). Wider team is in ‘coach mode’

The 3 questions we were responding to:
1. What are the greatest strengths that this person brings to the Forum purpose (aim for up to five)?

2. Please tell a story of something they’ve done that demonstrates the impact that they have had this year

3. Is there anything that would help this person be more effective?

20 mins — Wider team offers feedback (based around the 3 questions) — based on what they see/their perspective on this person’s work

15mins — appraisee reflects on what they’ve heard and what you’re taking from this

5mins — wrap up ritual — each person shares one thing to help summarise the year of the appraisee

This is only possible if you all buy into the process and prepare for it before. It only works if you’ve done some work already laying the foundations for a more relational way of working, which we had over the prior 6 months. I was nervous going into this, but it was a really constructive and supportive day. It reinforced some things I already knew about myself and highlighted some new things to develop as well.

It allowed us as a team to spot patterns across the way we work and identify gaps in our collective skills and approach. But it heightened our awareness of our own practices and identify what we need to do how. But we also know that we can push the boundaries of this initial pilot. It’s really hard to enter into places of conflict and tensions. We don’t always have the methods or tools to do this. But we’re hoping to bring in some of the CoResolve approaches to where we take this next.

The intention now that we’ve done it once is that we don’t have to wait a whole year to share our feedback and support each other — but that we can do it on a more frequent basis. It’s also something that could be really helpful for project teams or others that work together a lot.

Our team grew over subsequent years and weren’t all workoing together in the same way, so we weren’t able to all be part of the same process and feedback, but we repeated this in two smaller/ parallel groups. The role of coach became amplified in this sitution. We also found these collective sessions were really complimented by more 1:1 spaces to process feedback and look at what that meant for individuals.



#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change

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Louise Armstrong

#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change