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Personal Retrospectives

One of the most powerful tools I’ve found for building strong teams has been running safe, regular, fun, challenging, personal and focussed retrospectives. Retrospectives are about the way the team is interacting and the way the work is being done, rather than the work itself. They are private, internal, and for the benefit of the team. I’ve already talked about making retrospectives safe and explained how regularity, fun and challenge are key.

Now it’s time to look inward and get personal.

Who wants change? Yeah!
Who want to change? Nah I’m good thanks.

I distinctly remember attending and leading my first few retrospectives thinking the whole purpose was to get the team to behave in a different way. I had spotted the problems ahead of the meeting and my goal was to facilitate a conversation that would allow the rest of the team to see the problems the same way I did, then we would agree some actions about how they would change their behaviour. I felt somehow that as a leader it was my job to identify areas for improvement fix them rather than to use the retrospective as an opportunity to deepen my awareness of the way the team (including me) was operating.

While this approach may have some impact in some teams, it is really missing the point of a retrospective and the role of leadership within a team. I’m very grateful that I worked with a group of people that were able to be completely honest with me about how my behaviour was affecting their performance. How I communicated, how I worked, how I explained the activities of our team to others, how and when I made myself available, how I got involved in the problems the team were facing or didn’t, all these things were having an impact on the way the team was able to execute.

Realising this allowed me to approach retrospectives as a vehicle for personal improvement as well as team improvement. That change of mindset had many knock-on impacts.

  1. It allowed me to focus the retrospective on understanding first, rather than trying to lead the conversation the way I thought it ought to go. This led to better conversations. Genuine curiosity is easy to spot and very hard to fake.
  2. If others see you role modelling curiosity they are more likely to be curious themselves, to explore more deeply how their actions are received and to consider how they might wish to change their actions in the future.
  3. It made retrospectives more about me changing the way I worked than trying to change how others worked. I wanted there to be actions I could address. This reinforced the safety of the retrospective for everyone.

Retrospectives should help everyone figure out how to be a better member of the team regardless of the role they play. If you are the person with the most experience then take care that you are open to growth and role modelling that for others.  

About the author

Tom Styles

From over 20 years of crafting digital solutions in both the public and private sectors, Tom has a wealth of experience at delivery and leadership level. Tom’s passion for human-centred innovative use of technology and his ability to communicate with both a technical and business audience help maximise value from technology investments.

Tom blogs about agile, technology, and occasionally DJing or Ultimate Frisbee.