THE PAST SERVES THE FUTURE, OR HOW “RETROSPECTIONS” CHANGE YOU AND YOUR TEAM
The following text was created with the invaluable help of Natalia Kraszewska Thanks, Nat!
SIT DOWN AND THINK
Do you sometimes need simply just to sit on your butt and think about something? Consider the pros and cons, get some distance and look at your life from a different perspective? Maybe not everyone has to get out of body experience immediately, but you know — it’s a good exercise for your core. Some people practice these things every day! During their evening ritual “cig” they think:
eh… it was a great day, but maybe that old lady in 7-Eleven should not get in my way. She was so mean. Then I was mean and it shouldn’t be like that. I got upset and people should be nice to each other, I like people being nice because it takes courage. Next time I won’t lose control and I’ll be nice anyway.
So you have an exercise for yourself for today. Of course, I do not urge you to smoke before going to bed, but think about what pissed you off, what made you sad, and finally what made you happy today.
Why do this? You become a better person because you know you will find out what works for you and what does not. It sounds simple, but self-reflection sometimes takes a lot of effort as well as self-criticism.
NOW LET’S USE IT IN YOUR TEAM
The team is a very interesting creation. I have never worked in a team as such. I was very decisive, made decisions for myself, frivolous in my stupidity and 100% responsible for it. When I started working as a team member … despite being communicative — my inner strengths clashed between my old ways of doing things, not taking any criticism and the collective existence of people and code for which we are all responsible. And in two simple words — I couldn’t get it. And like everything good in life — it took me a while to get to the bottom of what’s going on. What is it all about? Life in a team is a bit like living in a relationship — there is no “me”, there is “us” and when you do something, you really do it and we do it. Each of your actions affects something bigger than you. When you make a mistake it is not just your mistake. When you celebrate success, success is greater than you might ever expect. You will ask: where is healthy selfishness? Where is the good of the individual? Where’s “ME” in all of this? Everywhere.
And I know now that half of you will say that I am an ordinary communist and should live in the times of the Polish People’s Republic and join the party. If you think so — see ya. A team is not a political party or mafia and you can sign out. Just like that. Sometimes it just doesn’t click, you can’t find yourself in the situation, where you simply don’t feel it, and that’s perfectly fine. The art is to make all members of the team feel safe, especially when they want to comment on a topic, and especially tackle the one that sits deep down somewhere inside a person. How to create such an atmosphere? This is a separate topic and I will leave it here… for now. You and your actions are also influenced by the people around you, and as long as you feel safe with them and you open up and talk honestly about what you feel inside — it works. How do you know what works and doesn’t? You’re doing a retrospection.
DEFINITION OF RETROSPECTION
… or, if you prefer, flashbacks — “the act of thinking now about something in the past” [Source: Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/retrospection?q=retrospection)]. And in the context of team gathering, it is definitely more than that, because it is a meeting that has a very specific purpose and is based on a structure that can of course vary depending on the needs of the team.
So … who are we? A Team! What do we want? To work smarter! How do we want to achieve this? Yyyyy. Exactly. And here comes the retrospection.
First, we take several aspects into account:
- Relationships between people.
- Team processes.
- Tools that serve people and processes.
And here we are, asking ourselves, “does it work for us?” Ha! If it only were that simple, everyone would say “cool, it works for me”, why waste an hour on it? Because such “retro” simply lasts so long and is often perceived as another meeting instead of coding (mainly from the engineers’ perspective). Maybe that’s why there is always a little game, in the beginning, to relax and make it more likely that someone opens up during the next part of the meeting, which is one of its main goals. There are plenty of ideas for such games, even remote ones! And I admit that I love this part because you can learn quite a lot not only about your friends and teammates but also about yourself.
Of course, I am not an expert, so I will say something … about my experiences. Don’t treat it as an interpretation of what it’s supposed to be, but what it might look like and how it works. The main principles that work for me. I would first of all outline: to be creative, kind and observe everyone around — not to just focus on yourself. And the coolest thing — try to have some fun with this meeting.
10 MINUTES OF ICEBREAKER, OR WE BREAK THE ICE
It’s time to play — sometimes it takes longer because people simply like to have fun. It is good to prepare such a game before the meeting and, for example, if it requires some thoughts, words or statements from the participants — it would be good to let them know about it before the meeting, not to waste valuable meeting time. For example, as a game, I came up with an idea of my favourite superhero that I identify with. Everyone on the team was supposed to write to me before the retro about who their favourite hero is and why. And then we were all guessing who’s who. This game was to naturally introduce us to the next parts of the meeting.
5 MINUTES FOR PREVIOUS RETRO ANALYSIS
As a result of the retrospection, we will have the following actions/tasks to be performed collected on a typical board: “To Do”, “In progress”, “Done”. At the end of this current retro, we will have new items in To Do, and we will need to make sure that these are very specific things to be done by very specific people — otherwise, it will go in different, unexpected directions like giraffe legs on an ice rink. Details, gentlemen and ladies! If we want to be better, we must act.
10 MINUTES FOR BOARD AND POST-ITs
And, this is where the “magic” begins. There are many ways to dig out what people “hide” inside. As a continuation of the game, I suggested that we, as a team, imagine ourselves as one super-hero who has:
- their enemies
- their helpers.
We were supposed to write under each of these elements what our superpower is, etc. Everyone leaves their yellow cards anonymously, but it is also a matter of establishing the rules — because maybe some people prefer not to hide.
You can invent hundreds of such boards, the most popular are:
- Mad, sad and glad — that is what drives us mad, what makes us sad and what we are grateful for. Often we add the so-called “Kudos” to this board to include and appreciate people who contributed to making the job just cooler at the time.
- 4L: Liked, Learned, Lacked, Longed for — which translates into What we liked, what we learned, what was missing and what we hope will change
- Start, Stop, Continue — what to start, what to stop and what to continue
There are a lot of cool examples — ones that are “remote-friendly” — especially in this day and age. That is why it is worth equipping yourself with the simple whiteboard software, which is not too distracting and gives a lot of possibilities. We use EasyRetro https://funretro.io/ and this is not an advertisement. It is worth investing in simplicity. And when you no longer need to do remote retrospection, you will need a blackboard, cards, pens and your imagination.
When everyone is done adding their cards, we read them all and group the ones that have the same meaning to make it easier for everyone to vote for the most important ones. The number of votes is determined by the facilitator.
After magically discovering what bothers the team the most — you just have to… talk about it. Discuss everything, give people a voice, help, listen, give space to open in a safe atmosphere and environment. Now flowers will come down from the ceiling and everything will be so easy and simple. BUT IT IS NOT. People don’t want to talk. They are silent and closed off. The topics are stiff. Everyone is focused on strict rules to be implemented. There is a WALL. And if there is a wall, there is a problem. Sometimes deeper. And sometimes it really turns out ok and people get close together and enjoy “spilling the beans”.
From my perspective, that’s what it’s all about and that’s how I treat it. I personally like to talk things through on retro and mentally complain if something is not going my way or if I am struggling with something. It wasn’t always easy, because sometimes it’s hard to admit your weakness. But you have to remember that it’s worth it!
CONCLUSIONS AND THEN ACTIONS
Okay — we can see what the problem is, what can be done to change it. And as I wrote before — we are going with details. You know — one small step can change so much, e.g. once in a retro we agreed that our meetings will not end at a full hour but 5 minutes before, because if we work from home and have a meeting after a meeting, sometimes it’s really hard to find a moment for the toilet. A simple, even trivial example, but it shows that even small improvements help at work, you just need to talk about them.
There are no perfect teams and there is always room for improvement. The same in your life — do not rest on your laurels — it is always worth sitting down and thinking about what bothers me and what I feel good about. This is a kind of mental hygiene that becomes a habit over time, so whenever there is an issue — whether it’s a problem with a relationship, process, or a tool — you’ll spot it right away and fix it — without waiting for retro.
I wrote this text thanks to the fact that as a junior I did my first retro a few weeks ago. I was stressed, but it was really fun. I also know what went wrong. I even made a retro of that retro and you know what? It’s a fun and useful skill… just like that.