[Note: Today's post is the second of a two part series about Retrospectives. If you haven't read the first part, it is probably useful to go back and read the Getting Started with Retrospectives first before moving on to today's post.]
Last time we talked about why Retrospectives are a simple way to upgrade your performance as a leader. They allow you an efficient way to gather feedback on yourself and your leadership style in a non-threatening way because you are getting feedback on a meeting or a process and not on yourself directly. However, if you are the chairman of the meeting, or are the one responsible for the process, you can quickly take that feedback and extrapolate changes that your people want to see in you. If you are not the chairman or the process owner, introducing the idea of Retrospectives is still a valuable idea because it helps to create a culture of giving and receiving feedback.
We also identified that any recurring meeting (any meeting that happens regularly, such as a daily status meeting or a quarterly business review) series you have can be a perfect candidate to experiment with Retrospectives.
How to Conduct a Retrospective
There are as many different ways to gather feedback from a group of people, as there there are kinds of people. To get a feel for what's out there, Google "Retrospective techniques" and spend a little time browsing the results. Like any skill, you will get better at conducting Retrospectives with practice, so the most important part is to simply get started!
Even though there is no "right" or "wrong" way to facilitate a Retrospective, there are a few key concepts that you will want to follow:
- establish a non-threatening environment to promote honesty (ensure people understand that the feedback is about the meeting, not about specific people)
- limit your own participation if you are the facilitator
- don't rush; give people time to think about their feedback
- give everyone an equal chance to provide feedback (not only the loudest or most talkative participants)
- allow the participants to vote on which "improvement" items are most important (this type of participation promotes ownership in making the meeting series better)
If you stick to those five key principles, it will be hard to have an unsuccessful Retrospective. Do some online research about how others are conducting their retros and don't forget to add in your own personal style. I have no doubt that you will quickly gain comfort with gathering improvement feedback via Retrospectives.
However, for those of you that are still not convinced (or a little confused), I will walk you through the process that I use to conduct my own Retrospectives on recurring meeting series.
- Step 1: Call for the meeting several weeks in advance. In the meeting invitation for the Retrospective, clearly state that the participants will be asked for input, so they should come to the meeting with ideas.
- Step 2: Kick-off the meeting with an explanation of what a Retrospective is and why the feedback is important for everyone. When I do this, I like to use the phrase We spend many hours together in his meeting series, so we should try to make them as good as possible.
- Step 3: Give everyone 5 - 10 minutes to write down their feedback. The feedback points should be split in two categories: 1) things the meeting series does well and should keep doing, and 2) things the meeting series should change to improve. You can provide people with Post-It notes for their ideas (one idea per Post-It note), or they can use their own paper.
- Step 4: Start with the category of Things to Keep. These items will not be very controversial so there shouldn't be much disagreement.
- Go around the table and ask each participant to give one unique answer. If some participants try to give more than one answer, politely stop them and continue on to the next participant. When you move on to the next person, ask them if they have a unique idea, such as John, do you have any ideas that are different from those already mentioned? This will keep people from repeating answers and slowing the meeting down.
- If your Retrospective is virtual (meaning you have participants attending via video or audio conference), always start with the people that are remotely connected. This makes them a more active participant in the Retrospective.
- As the facilitator, you are responsible to collect the ideas when they are mentioned. I like to use free mind-mapping software called Freeplane because it allows for easy grouping of the ideas later on, but any method of gathering the information is fine. Use a projector or video sharing to show your notes as you type them.
- Continue going around to each participant asking for unique ideas until no one has anything else to add.
- Step 5: Next, continue with the category of Things to Change using the same information gathering method you used with the Things to Keep category.
- There will likely be more conversation and debate about these ideas. Not every participant will agree with every comment said. That's okay, just keep the meeting moving. There could be a tendency for participants to want to debate each other over small points. Let them have a comment or two but then move on to the next person. As the facilitator, it's your job to not let the meeting get bogged down in debate.
- Step 6: It's extremely likely that some of the ideas mentioned are similar. The next step is to group them together into categories if needed.
- For example, if one partipant mentions slow response time to IT helpdesk tickets and another partipant says IT keeps closing our tickets without resolving them, you could create a new category called IT Ticket Handling and make the original ideas as sub-topics of the new category. However, be careful! It is critical not to create categories at too high a level or the original meaning of the ideas could be lost. For example, it's not a good idea to name the new category IT since that could mean many other things besides problems with the ticket handling.
- When you do the grouping of ideas into similar categories, it is important to share your screen with the other partipants so they can understand what you're doing and assist. Remember, this is a team activity.
- Step 7: After the ideas are grouped and all participants accept the new categories, ask them to vote on the things that are most important to change. The easiest way I've found to do this is to vote.
- Each participant is given three votes. They can distribute their votes in any way they desire (one vote per idea, all three votes on one idea, etc.)
- Give everyone a minute to look at the categories and ready their voting.
- Use the same order to collect the votes as you used to collect the ideas.
- Tally the votes and reveal the top 3 most important areas to change for the meeting series.
- Step 8: Depending on the type of ideas presented, they may require an owner or driver to work on. If so, the best time to ask for volunteers and/or assign a driver is during the Retrospective meeting itself.
- Step 9: Summarize the findings, thank everyone for coming, and mention when the next Retrospective meeting will be held.
- Ask the participants to help hold each other accountable to improve the top 3 items.
- Step 10: Send out the Meeting Minutes and the notes from the Retrospective to all participants.
And that's really all there is to it. Obviously, you can make your Retrospectives as elaborate as you want, but I've found these ten steps fit into a standard 60 minute meeting time slot and can comfortably gather feedback from 8-15 people.
Good luck, and remember the most important thing is simply to get started. You won't get better unless you practice.
Take care, and I'll talk to you next time.