What makes a good Retrospective?

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As the year draws to a close, many of us find ourselves in a natural state of reflection but how effectively do you and your team reflect on the inner working your business?

Call it a debrief, a ‘wash up’ meeting, an ‘after action review’ or a retrospective, these agile meetings are a powerful tool that every business should use to reflect not just on the year that has passed but on every project, case or session they conduct.

Retrospectives (as we like to call them) are designed as useful checkpoints to bring your team together on a regular basis, highlighting opportunities for change, generating meaningful improvements to your workflow and ultimately preventing your team and operations from stagnating. (That’s if you run them properly.)

So, what does it take to run an effective and efficient retrospective?

Before we begin, let’s set some expectations. No single approach is the silver bullet. Every business needs to find their flow by combining a range of retrospective techniques that best suit their business but regardless of size, shape or sector, the objective of a retrospective should always remain the same…

To collaboratively problem solve and leave your team on common ground, feeling optimistic and excited about the next phase in your agile journey.

Typically, retrospectives encourage teams to identify key observations, like:

  • What’s working
  • What’s not
  • What can be improved
  • What can be added to the process
  • What can be removed from the process

But the key to running REALLY effective and efficient retrospectives comes in two areas. Firstly, it’s absolutely crucial that your retrospectives encourage growth. Your meetings must consistently acknowledge the good, and remain committed to both uncovering, and actioning the areas of improvement, rather than coming from a place of negativity and blame with regards to what may have gone wrong and who in the team failed to do something.

That doesn’t mean sugar-coating! Far from it. Any issues or conflicts must be hashed out appropriately but the priority for growth of your people, as well as your business is to nurture learnings from the past and use them in a positive way to move forward.

Acknowledgement is a huge part of the process here, and regardless of whether you’re the leader or not, a key component to effective retrospectives come in acknowledging people on your team for the good they’ve achieved and the skills they possess.

One of the best ways of incorporating acknowledgement is by structuring your retrospective in a sequence of Good, Bad, Better, Best:

  • Good – Areas where the team met or exceeded expectations
  • Bad – Areas where expectations and objectives were not met
  • Better – Opportunities for improvement
  • Best – Celebrating the wins, be it exceptional performance or shining a light on the efforts of those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty

Retrospectives are a safe place for your team to open up. Your people should feel empowered to not only acknowledge others but to confidently ask to be acknowledged themselves.

The second area for running effective and efficient retrospectives is on keeping them engaging! Sound easy? Hmmm… well like anything, novelties sharp wear off. You’ll probably notice (if you haven’t already) that over time, the more retrospectives you have, the lower team participation becomes and the energy levels that people bring to table starts to drop. Sound familiar?

If your retrospectives could do with a bit more magic, then we’re here to put the spark back into the sprint with our 3 top tips:

  1. Think outside the box – Retrospectives require an entirely different mindset from the day-to-day grind of working on a product or project. It’s about encouraging your team to stop thinking about the last thing they were working on and start thinking about the bigger picture. To help your team think differently during a retrospective, why not set the stage. What does that mean? Well, this could be as simple as taking 5-10 minutes at the start of the session to do some mindfulness meditation practices to help your team clear their minds, or if you want to make a real impact, step out of the ordinary and host your session in an usual location, completely unrelated to your day-to-day business environment.
  • Incorporate Novelty – Another technique is to incorporate games and ‘guests’ into your sessions. Of which there is a limitless supply! Earlier this year, we engaged Vibrant Thinking in our summer retrospective. By using the art of Pottery Painting, Lorna used the novelty of her business to get Team Geon’s creative juices flowing and brought the internal team into a space of safety, positivity and fun! Check out our latest video to find out what we achieved as a result:

  • Keep it Action-Oriented – Most simply, but perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re assigning anything actionable to people within your team. And don’t forget to mix it up. You don’t want the same tasks falling on the same people all of the time, else the outcome will always be the same. The retrospective can be as constructive and helpful as possible, but the ripples will not be felt unless the change is implemented across the team and people are challenged in different ways each time. Keep a list visible for everyone to see, and make sure that expectations and deadlines are set before the next retrospective arises.

The goal of a retrospective is to use your learnings from the past to improve your ways of working for the future. It’s a chance to level up your team’s development, polish up your leader’s leadership and instil a culture of continuous progression for individuals and organisations alike to thrive.

What better time to look back at your collective achievements than now as we close another chapter in our stories. And what better time to adopt new ways of working than now as we welcome in a clean slate with as much hope, optimisation, happiness and health as we can create.

Time is the most valuable asset we have, and retrospectives teach us how to be wiser with it. To all of our employer partners and readers, we encourage you to give your teams the gift of growth as we enter a new year, and make effective retrospectives your biggest resolution for 2022!

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