Increasing Team Engagement in Retrospectives

I love retrospectives. They’re one of the easiest and most effective ways of directly implementing an agile principle. (At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.) Retrospectives should be something that the team looks forward to because they know that it means that during the next iteration they’re going to improve. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for all the teams I meet. In this post I’ll talk about how you can improve your team’s retrospectives so that they can be excited about them and improve their ways of working.

A Time to Reflect, Not to Vent

If as a ScrumMaster you hear your team say, “Let’s pick this up in retro,” what you’re really hearing is a great opportunity to coach the team through something they’re struggling to resolve on their own. Any specific issues that the team encounter are best tackled as they come up during the iteration. Specific issues are better dealt with in a timely and decisive manner, so the team can move on both professionally and emotionally.

Retrospectives are a time for the team to reflect and discuss more general practices and processes. Harness the power of the retrospective to improve your team’s agility, not to pull each other apart.

Variety Avoids Boredom and Fosters Creative Thinking

Although I can’t say that I haven’t run the same activities twice with any given team, I try to mix them up so that the team doesn’t know the exact flow of the retrospective. This both allows them to be caught by surprise at their own thought processes, and not to get bored with doing the same thing every couple of weeks. We’re working with creatives, so we need to be creative in order to inspire them.

However…

Plan the Retrospective Beforehand

A good retrospective is something that needs to be thought through carefully before it happens. Not all activities will match up with each other, nor deliver results in the areas that you’re targeting. When you’re creating your retrospective plan, know what you’re targeting and think about how you can lead the team through a journey of self-reflection with the knowledge that you’re there to provide support and compassion.  (Take a look at my post on creating retrospectives.)

ScrumMaster As Mirror to the Team

The ScrumMaster will see things during an iteration that can’t be seen by those who are immersed, and maybe even notice the team falling into agile anti-patterns. By keeping track of the key areas that the team needs to look at during the iteration, you can help setup a path for the team to learn about and understand themselves better. I have a list of about 20 topics that my current team needs to address, and every iteration I choose one and base the retrospective plan around that.

Ensure Ownership Of Actions

In order for retrospectives to deliver value, the outcome of most of them has to be at least one action that someone is responsible for. Why would anyone on a team want to take an hour or two out of their schedules to talk about how the team could improve, but then never actually improves? Create SMART actions and stick them on your board to be acted upon as part of the iteration.

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