The intersection of technology and leadership

Retrospectives go beyond the report

One of the things that constantly surprises me about facilitating retrospectives is about the energy that a well run session can result in. For most heartbeat retrospectives, I feel it’s not normally that useful to write up a comprehensive report, as the team should feel ownership of the action items.

An important aspect to the role of the facilitator, is to do as much as they can to sustain the energy of the group and to tap into everyone’s capacity for embracing and dealing with change. Helping people contribute their story to the retrospective helps. Letting people tell their story in full helps. Facilitating difficult conversations towards a non destructive outcome helps. Moving the team towards specific, tangible actions or concrete lessons learns helps.

After the retrospective, I’ve always wondered what responsibility the facilitator has for ensuring change. My conclusion is that, in reality if they are truly independent, it’s none. Of course, the facilitator may care (and I can assure you I do) about following through on the change, yet all the systemic forces that push for and against change tend to be out of the influence of a truly independent facilitator.

In short, retrospectives are agents for change, yet ultimately it comes down to the empowered team to make sure the changes really happen. My advice to managers is to give teams responsibility and, with that, the decision making authority, to help them make the changes they need to.

6 Comments

  1. Jason Yip

    Why is true independence important?

  2. Patrick

    Hi Jason,

    I feel independence is important for the safety for participants and also, for ensuring the full story during a retrospective is shared. I’ve seen participants very confused when a facilitator adds some perspective of the project when they are facilitating. It’s even very easy unconsciously to Control the Conversation as there is a Conflict of Interests.

    My emphasis above on the truly independent facilitator is that, unlike facilitators who might be in the project, the independent facilitator has little influence on ensuring change occurs. They don’t have as much ability to ensure the team follows through on action items.

  3. Jason Yip

    Does independence ensure the full story is shared?

    If the full story is always shared but no changes ever occur, is the retrospective successful?

  4. Patrick

    Does independence ensure the full story is shared?

    Independence help the full story get shared, especially if the facilitator has a part to tell. Having someone neutral encourages others to fully tell their parts as well.

    If the full story is always shared but no changes ever occur, is the retrospective successful?

    If the purpose of the retrospective is to mourn (to help people accept a project’s failure) then it could be considered successful if the full story is shared. If the retrospective continues to make visible the issues at hand, then it also could be considered successful. Of course, persistent changes are the most ideal outcome. Yet it’s easy to forget that sharing the full story also has a significant impact on whether changes are embraced by the entire team, or just a small few.

  5. Jason Yip

    Is persistent change (for the better) an ideal outcome? Or the primary target outcome?

    What are the primary factors for people to embrace change?

    What impact does persistent and continuous improvement have on the story that a team will tell and believe about itself?

  6. Patrick

    Is persistent change (for the better) an ideal outcome? Or the primary target outcome?

    It depends on who sponsors the retrospective, and what they really want to achieve. Sometimes some (external) people might want insight into project issues to help them make better decisions. Sometimes, it’s about spreading knowledge.

    It’s easy to say, of course, persistent change (for the better) an ideal outcome. I wouldn’t necessarily argue it’s the primary target outcome (for a single retrospective). It may be the primary target outcome for a series of these (coming back to who’s sponsoring and why they want to run them)

    What are the primary factors for people to embrace change?

    I’m not an expert in this area, however I do know that change is more likely to be embraced if people have had a way of contributing to the outcome. Primary factors? I can only go with my gut. Having people share they story helps in adopting the decisions for change. Some people need “grieving time” as well, and letting people talk about it might make some people more willing to embrace change. I always look towards any little thing that can help.

    What impact does persistent and continuous improvement have on the story that a team will tell and believe about itself?

    I’m not sure how to answer this one. In my experience, I know that when you have persistent continuous improvement, the team will be more willing to share their story with other people (perhaps extending the good things coming out of it).

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