“You are not your code.” How to cultivate an environment of effective feedback when scaling your engineering team

Feedback is information. When you’re scaling up a company, one of the most important things is for everyone on your team to get timely information.

But effective feedback isn’t a sure-fire process. It’s something that’s developed into your company culture and that needs specific attention. On our first episode of the now ScaleUp Valley Podcast, we spoke with two CTOs that have a lot of experience with developing effective feedback while scaling up their engineering teams.

Patrick Kua, CTO at N26, and Tobias (or Toby) Balling, Co-Founder & CTO at Blinkist, sat down with Paulo André of TourRadar and, of course, Ryan Foland, our host, to discuss radical candor, nonviolent communication, retrospective feedback, and more.

The art of nonviolent feedback

As the technical co-founder of Blinkist with a growing team of 40 engineers, Toby Balling has encountered his fair share of feedback sessions and is the first to admit that he hasn’t always been successful at giving effective feedback.

He notes that it’s easy to get defensive or feel disappointed by other people’s performances at the start of your business, but that this only wastes time and makes growing harder. Balling cautions approaching feedback with any sort of aggression but rather suggests that effective feedback is always about helping the other person get better.

This is where nonviolent feedback is helpful because it reminds you to never use feedback as a courier for blame. With this model, everyone is on the same page about the tone with which feedback should be delivered.

But it’s a two-way street. As Patrick Kua added, “You are not your code.” There’s no need to feel attacked by what’s said in a code review, as all feedback should be focused on improvement and delivered as subjective pieces of constructive criticism.

Don’t leave your problems to amplify

It’s important to note as well that not giving direct feedback early enough can leave the problem to amplify. Patrick Kua avoids this in his growing team of 150 engineers with a few key tips.

Kua asserts that if he’s done his job right, then he’s making the other person safe to actually receive his feedback. Meaning he’s hyper-focused on providing his feedback in a manner that will be well-received and so does not need to suppress any feedback for fear of the others’ reaction.

When you think about it in terms of retrospective feedback, people are making choices and doing work because they believe it’s right. And you may not have all of the information as to what is driving them.

So to make his feedback more effective, Kua focuses on two areas of feedback. The first is to strengthen their confidence about things that they should continue doing. And the second is to point them towards opportunities that will give them more impact. If his feedback doesn’t fit into one of the two, then he knows it isn’t effective.

Learn more about these techniques of effective feedback by listening to the whole episode of the ScaleUp Valley podcast on SoundCloud. Then, keep listening and keep scaling. And if you want to know more about ScaleUp Valley initiatives, calendar and purpose, join our community by subscribing to the ScaleUp Valley newsletter.