Friday, August 05, 2016

Team Retrospectives: Driving Learning & Improvement

In a blog post this week, The Design Gym offers an inside look into their "team retros" that they conduct each month.  Other organizations describe such processes as post-mortems, lessons learned exercises, or after-action reviews.   The Design Gym conducts these sessions each month, with skilled facilitation and a simple process that all must follow.  They have a straightforward six-step process:

1.  Check-in: Each person checks in by jotting down a sentence or drawing a sketch that highlights how they feel about the past month's activities, accomplishments, and failures.  

2. Solo Reflection: Each person spends some time alone jotting down their thoughts about the past month's activities on sticky notes.  

3. Share Out: Each person spends a few minutes putting their sticky notes up on the wall and explaining their reflections and conclusions.

4.  Themes, Insights, and Red Flags: The team looks across all the shared reflections and tries to identify any recurring themes, insights, and red flags.  

5. Commitments: Each person completes an "I will __________" statement describing what they pledge to work on in the coming weeks to improve team and individual performance.   

6. Check-out: Each person takes a few moments to jot down a phrase or illustrate in a simple way their closing thought for the session, reflecting on all the discussion that has taken place.  

I've examined how many organizations conduct such retrospective sessions.  They seem simple to execute, but in fact, they can be very challenging to perform successfully.   Here are a few of my tips for conducting such sessions:
  • Don't jump to conclusions.  Focus first on the team's goals and the actual events that took place.  Build a solid shared understanding of the facts before trying to determine what went wrong (or right).  
  • Think systemically, not individualistically.  Don't focus on the person to blame for a failure.  Instead, consider the broader environmental, organizational, cultural, procedural, and technical drivers of performance.  
  • Spend time on success and failure.  We learn more effectively if we can compare and contrast different outcomes.   Don't just dwell on failures. 
  • Set priorities.  Don't come up with laundry list of things to do differently next time.  Focus on the few things that will matter most, and over which you have the most control.  

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