About a year ago we were working with the La Victoria Lab team, part of InterCorp in Peru, when one of them showed us a piece of work and asked: “Please can you tunk this?” We found out that tunking (pronounced “toonking”) is a word this team uses for blunt critique, made with the intentions of the people on the receiving end uppermost in mind. It’s honest feedback. The people doing the tunking don’t hold back. They say what they really think. They do this because they want the people being tunked to succeed. Hence this amazing work of art we found on the wall: “Tunking is a generous act”. We had to stop and take a photo.
Tunking is helpful honesty
Teams ask to be tunked because they’d rather face criticism from someone they know and trust and respect, rather than from total strangers they don’t. It’s easy to shy away from tunking. Criticism can be perceived as unhelpful, or even as a form of aggressive challenge. People get defensive, the atmosphere gets unhealthy, and honest feedback becomes a thing to be explained away, rather than reflected upon. At its worst, these kinds of exchange can lead to dishonesty – not outright lying, but holding back the truth from teams until it is too late to be helpful. In most projects that go awry, there is a moment where an honest conversation could have happened, but didn’t. In organisations that don’t tunk, the consequences can be found all over the place; in operations, between different teams, and around the board table.
How to tunk well
Good tunking can (and should) come from anyone and everyone on the team. It’s definitely not the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion. Everyone should get an equal say, senior people and junior people alike. Diversity of opinion is as important and valuable as diversity of team members. Leaders need to encourage an atmosphere of openness, ideally by practicing openness themselves, and demonstrating that they are open to tunking of themselves and their own work. Good tunking looks like people assembled in a room, using a prototype or a product, and talking through what they think of it. Good tunking is born out of experience. People who have built similar things or done research with similar users, can give teams criticism that’s rooted in evidence, not opinion. Tunking is a generous act because it comes from people who care about the end result. If you care, tunk.