The Safety Net of Retrospectives

Stop Planning - ExecuteOrganizations are filled with decisions. Well-run organizations enable decisions to be made at any level – ideally at the level closest to the work being done. But sometimes it can be difficult to know if a decision is good or not. As a team, you can talk about the challenges, the benefits, and the goals, but you just don’t know what you don’t know. This fear of not knowing can lead to inaction – especially in cultures which value risk management and mitigation over innovation.

When I come across teams stuck with inaction, I usually see a tool missing from their toolbelts – retrospectives. Because it isn’t so much the action that people are stuck on, but the reaction and knowing what to do about it.

One way I teach teams to do retrospectives on a regular basis is to have 4 quadrants – Well, Less Well, Change and Expect. That last item is key. What did we expect to happen since the last time we reflected? If we put a change in place, did we expect something to happen because of that? Then, if the change was good, it can go in the Well column, and if it wasn’t good, it can go in the Less Well, allowing both to feed into new ideas we can try. We move from being a culture of inaction to one of micro-experimentation.

ExpectAs an example, I was working with a leadership team earlier this week that had gone through some reshuffling and was taking a look at the way they were currently running their program. One of the questions that came up was whether they needed all of the meetings they were currently having, and specifically if they could combine two meetings (with two different sets of participants) that happened on the same day. I asked two questions:

  1. What do we expect to happen by combining these?
  2. How long should we wait to see if we’re seeing the results?

This allowed them to say that we would expect to see an increased level of collaboration, decreased level of communication delays, and that we could reflect on it in 4 weeks to see if the desired impact was happening, and make a decision about what to try next then.

Small steps. Microexperimentation. Engaged participants. That’s a good step towards building – and discovering – a great organization.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ben Linders March 27, 2014, 6:43 am

    This is an interesting exercise for agile retrospectives!

    I like how you stress the importance of expectations, it helps teams to develop a shared view on what they would like to accomplish, and to check if their improvement actions have helped them to reach that.

    I use the 4 key questions in retrospectives (see http://www.benlinders.com/2013/which-questions-do-you-ask-in-retrospectives/), where I’ve had good results on asking what puzzles the team. This question often gives very useful insights for teams, by revealing things which had remained unspoken before I asked the question.