Kudo box to learn feedback

Throughout my agile coaching career, I have used kudo box in many different ways. One of the most recent ones was at a client in the telecommunication industry. My role as an agile coach there is mostly mentoring scrum masters. Occasionally I also facilitate workshops and hold trainings for these teams. While some teams are distributed across different countries, others are completely colocated.

Two of the scrum masters recently showed concern about the lack of knowledge in their teams regarding feedback. I thought they were showing great understanding of team dynamics as they had identified this issue. One of them described:

As my team is entering the storming phase of the Tuckman model, I see that a good knowledge of how to give and receive feedback is more important than ever.

Since almost no one in the teams had ever learned how to give and receive feedback, I decided to create a feedback training workshop for them.

Some teams in the organization have previously gone through feedback training using nonviolent communication. Although I believe nonviolent communication is a great way of learning how to communicate more effectively, I do not believe it to be the best starting point for a team of individuals who have never before learnt about self-development. It takes quite a bit of practice for people to learn how to express their needs using nonviolent communication.

However, using impact feedback, I could more easily teach these team members how to give and receive feedback. Nonviolent communication is a next step after they have practiced with impact feedback and kudo cards for a few months.

Everything starts with a game

First step of my feedback training was a game. Since both teams use scrum as their development framework, I brought a scrum simulation game. Since the game was only a facilitator for getting to the feedback training, in this post, I will not get into the details of what it entailed. You can use any game you want, even boardgames can be useful. The idea is to have a recent concrete context upon which the feedback is given and received.

Giving and receiving feedback

Most people have learned the sandwich feedback that goes like this:

  • Say something nice about a behavior you have observed in the person receiving the feedback
  • Mention the behavior you want the person to improve
  • Say something nice about a behavior you have observed in the person receiving the feedback

The problem with sandwich feedback is that most people use it unskillfully. This causes the receiver of the feedback to be waiting in anticipation when hearing the first positive feedback. They would then hear the “constructive” feedback and often perceive it as “negative”. And eventually they would completely miss out on the final positive feedback because their mind is busy understanding and even defending or justifying the middle feedback.

Impact feedback is most effective ways to give feedback. And the bonus point is that as a receiver of this kind of feedback, all you can say is “thank you”.

Here’s how impact feedback is constructed:

When you did/said ——-, the impact on me was¬†——- .

The impact can be positive or negative. An example of a negative impact feedback could be: “When you moved my card on the visualization board, the impact on me was getting confused.” And an example for a positive impact feedback could be “”When you asked me to move my card on the visualization board, the impact on me was feeling supported.”

And the receiver of impact feedback always responds with a simple “thank you!”. In more advanced forms of impact feedback, we can go into the details of how to change the behavior or impact. But in this workshop, I strictly kept the format simple.

Kudo cards

After learning about feedback, it was time for me to introduce the team to a new game. Something that would help them practice giving and receiving feedback continuously.

I brought the box of Management 3.0 Kudo Cards out of my briefcase and let the team members have a look at all cards. There were lots of laughters and curiosity about how these cards were to be used. To begin using them, I told them about one simple rule:

Kudo cards are given from you to your peers who have done an excellent job, whether big or small.

Kudo cards

They could immediately see the benefit of recognition and positive reinforcement that the cards could create. I added,

Kudo cards are a small and unexpected tokens of appreciation for doing a good job. They are written as public recognition of a colleague for something s/he has contributed to the team. To begin using these cards, we are going to limit the usage to your team for the next month. If you like the idea, then we will introduce it to the rest of the organization.

The team decided to keep the box of kudo cards next to their visualization board. They dedicated a part of their whiteboard to be a placeholder for kudo cards.

Within a month after using kudo cards, the team has not only become better at giving and receiving impact feedback, but also had learnt the importance of recognition of peers. According to one of the team members

We always wait for the boss to pat us on the back. But I have discovered that using kudo cards and receiving a pat on the back from a peer is much more satisfying.


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