Mundane to Motivating: Transform your Retrospectives

Transform your Retrospectives

Twelve core principles guide agile working, the final of which says: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” We call this time of reflection a retrospective.

Not to be confused with a review (a session to discuss the products delivered), the purpose of a retrospective is purely to determine how we worked together as a team. Which processes worked? Which didn’t? And what commitments can we make to improve our collaboration in the future?

The need to avoid mundane retrospectives

Retrospectives are a vital cog in the rhythm of every agile team. They require a critical look inwards to examine ourselves and our teammates – which, let’s be honest, we don’t all love to do. In fact, not only do we not love self-analysis, but often we actively avoid it. Leaving any level of introspection and feedback until an uncomfortable yearly appraisal. Something we just cannot do when working agile.

This leads to the mundane retrospective when a facilitator sticks to comfortable questions to avoid conflict and team members cower at the back trying to avoid providing critical feedback of any value. And nothing is more boring, predictive, and unproductive than running the same retrospectives again and again, allowing people to become accustomed to what’s asked of them and resulting in socially desirable answers in less mature teams.

Retrospectives are a vital cog in the rhythm of every #agile team. But how do you keep them motivating? This article via @TOPdesk explores. Click To Tweet

The mundane retrospective limits the learning and potential of agile teams and, as such, the value this team will add to the organization. It’s not just detrimental to the team, it’s detrimental to the company at large if we allow these practices to exist. It sends the message that it’s ok to do the same thing continuously and not experiment. As scrum masters are the facilitators of retrospectives, when they display this behavior, imagine how someone with less agile tendencies will behave.

The trigger for transformation

If you identify with any of the above, then you’re not alone. Many agile organizations can find themselves in the rut of unproductive retrospectives. But let this be your trigger to transform.

Spicing up our retrospectives provides many benefits for our agile teams, such as: drawing attention to problems before they become a bigger issue, identifying areas where we can improve, allowing for open and transparent communication within the team, facilitating a constant understanding of what we’re trying to achieve, and nurturing camaraderie in the group.

Ultimately, retrospectives are essential to the health of our agile teams and influence the organization at large. Therefore we must look to make them as motivating and productive as possible – but how?

Many #agile organizations can find themselves in the rut of unproductive retrospectives. Want to change that? Check out this article via @TOPdesk. Click To Tweet

From mundane to motivating retrospectives – actionable tips

There are easy, actionable things you can try in your next retrospective to transform it from mundane to motivating:

  1. Consider the factors of your playing field. Various factors make up a retrospective, from the team (maturity and personality) to location and objectives. We must consider each of these aspects in order to design a suitable space for reflection. Recognize the entire playing field of the team. For example, who is more or less likely to speak up and enable a space for everybody’s voice to be heard. Research shows that in high-performing teams, airtime is split quite evenly between the team members. Consider the objective and result of the sprint being wrapped up. Draw on the energy of the last retrospective and the perceived safety of the team. Head outside (weather dependent) to give the team a different location and a new perspective. Consider using visuals such as photos or send them on a scavenger hunt on the internet for that one image that represents the previous sprint to them. There are a lot of ways we can mix up our retrospectives, and examining each factor is the key to identifying these.
  2. Try new things. Agile tells us to try, innovate, succeed, and sometimes fail. So, when it comes to retrospectives, we must be prepared to truly embody the agile mentality. An easy way to do this is with new activities and games. For example, I created a new exercise around the ideas of Stephen Covey’s circle of influence. The purpose of this activity is to inspire each member of the team such that they can do more to resolve struggles than they might believe when stuck in a rut. The idea: together the team works through each element of the circle (concern, influence, and control) and leaves with a tangible plan to solve their concerns in the upcoming sprint. This exercise has enlightened many retrospectives and even provides talking points for further retrospectives (sharing learnings and progress on our journey).
  3. Aim for thought-provoking questions. As we’ve established, agile retrospectives require examining our own actions and those of our team. We cannot achieve a valuable level of critique without asking ourselves challenging questions. Some of my personal favorites are:
    • What’s the impact of the behavior you witnessed?
    • Can you explain it to me as if I was a toddler?
    • How can you be sure that you’re understood as you intended?
    • What do we need to tackle first for us to have the same conversation again?

Don’t get into the habit of using the same challenging questions again and again – this is a recipe for the mundane retrospective. Instead, mix it up. Your relationship with your team is no different than that with your partner: keep surprising each other. Perhaps reach out to your fellow scrum masters for inspiration, or even ask them to run a retrospective with your team. A new perspective often gives us the insight we’re looking for.

This article via @TOPdesk shares three easy, actionable things you can try in your next retrospective to transform it from mundane to motivating. #Agile Click To Tweet

Retrospectives: They’re not a box-ticking exercise

A retrospective isn’t a simple box-ticking exercise to wrap up your sprint. They’re an essential session to help agile teams grow, mature, succeed, and, not to forget, an opportunity to have a lot of fun together. And if your retrospectives have become mundane, take some motivation from the twelfth agile principle: reflect on how you can re-energize your retrospectives and adjust accordingly.

Annemarie Wolfrat
Agile Coach at TOPdesk | Website

Annemarie has over a decade of experience in bringing organizational change projects to a successful end. With a strong focus on the people side of projects, she operates on an enterprise-level to increase agility and as a result; company success and engaged employees and leaders

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