Those of us familiar with agile are well-aware of the benefits of retrospectives. They are an opportunity for review and reflection; an exercise that improves flexibility, giving us the chance to change and grow. Whether we only perform retrospectives at the end of our sprints or make use of them after tackling odd projects completed on an irregular basis, retros are a tried-and-true part of staying agile. They keep us organized. They keep us in check. However, sometimes, they can also start to feel like a chore. So, what do we do when our retrospectives start getting stale?
They’re too important to abandon, and done carelessly, will quickly become a poor use of time. Luckily, Retros are exactly what they sound like, “retro;” steady and reliable classics that can easily be brightened up and revived, and we have a few suggestions on how to freshen them up.
1. Change things up
Not every Retro has to be the same. It is important to keep records, but we rarely want or need the same thing every single time, and there’s no rule saying a Retrospective needs to be either of those things. In fact, there are many simple ways to switch things up with minimal effort. We can:
Ask different types of questions. For instance, if you usually ask what went well and what went better, instead, try asking about people’s attitudes toward different projects or events. This tactic is especially useful to employ when performing retros on different types of events or projects. Asking more relevant questions means learning more helpful information.
Change the location of the meeting. A change of scenery can make a big difference. Sometimes fresh air or a different workspace can break up the monotony of the day, and for those conducting online meetings over a video conference, switching up your backgrounds can be fun and refreshing. You can even choose themes like travel destinations or favorite works of art.
2. Reduce the formality
The beautiful thing about Retrospectives is that they aren’t for the stockholders, the clients, or even for leadership. They are for the team. As such, they do not need to be bound by the same level of formality as many other work meetings. This makes Retros an opportunity, not just for growth, but for light team bonding. We can:
Set the tone as relaxed and judgment-free. This is always a good way to improve trust and productivity, but is especially helpful during sessions focused on reflection and improvement. Taking and giving criticism can be uncomfortable, but treating it like a low stakes problem-solving activity for the team reduces that discomfort and allows for more honesty.
Encourage the whole team to participate in the discussion. The more like a conversation Retros are, the more valuable and detailed questions get answered. It also helps keep the team on the same page, especially when everyone participates.
3. Make it feel meaningful
Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that what we’re doing is productive and meaningful. It is one thing to know that Retros help us to report and evaluate our work. It is another to feel that our work has been acknowledged, appreciated, and understood. To do this, we can:
Keep things in perspective. Understanding that people’s time and accomplishments are not just boxes to be checked and that team members are more than just assets reminds everyone that what they’re doing matters. This can improve morale and productivity and is easily accomplished by providing context and perspective. Discuss how completed work affects the team, the company, and the goals that have been set.
Be appreciative. Your team works hard to get through their projects, and it is always important to acknowledge that. You can discuss what was challenging and how your team’s skills and effort affected the work. You can even incorporate a gratitude segment where everyone thanks different members of the team for their work and support.
To sum it all up...
Retros are an important part of learning, growth, and organization within a team, but their constancy can become boring over time. On the bright side, adjusting our approach to Retros can improve both team engagement and the Retrospective’s overall effectiveness by meeting the specific needs of the team and their situation. Some of the ways this can be accomplished are by changing things up through asking different questions or switching the location of the meeting, reducing the formality by setting a relaxed, judgment-free tone while encouraging full team participation, and by making the Retro feel meaningful by providing perspective and acknowledgment.
Let us know how you revive your retros!