Touchy Subjects in Retrospectives

Photo by roboM8

Photo by roboM8

I observed a retrospective meeting this week that got me thinking about the role of team members in this important meeting.  The facilitator should be guiding the team through the retrospective process, but sometimes the facilitation leaves something to be desired.  As an observer, I was paying a lot of attention to the dynamics and energy level in the room, particularly since I know this team has been storming recently.  Unfortunately, in the end I felt like the retrospective was ineffective, and I wonder what the team members in the room could've done to make it better.

Team members should be focused on the content of the retrospective, and emotions can make it hard to do so.  While we can hope to check our outside emotions at the office door, it can be difficult to do so, and those emotions can distract us during meetings.  Here are 5 ways to manage your emotions at work from The Glass Hammer:

  1. Know what you're feeling.
  2. Understand that the expression of emotion affects everyone.
  3. Find ways to be creative and active outside the office.
  4. Use the company's resources to decompress.
  5. Go deeper.

Sometimes emotions can get the best of us due to something that is said during the retrospective, particularly if it feels like we are being criticized personally.  Gretchen Rubin has 6 tips for handling criticism:

  1. Listen to what a critic is saying.
  2. Don't be defensive.
  3. Don’t expose myself to criticism from people I don’t respect. 
  4. Delay my reaction.
  5. Admit my mistakes.
  6. Enjoy the fun of failure.

While handling emotions and accepting criticism are important for a team member during retrospectives, I wish I had more insight on what a team member should do when subjects are being avoided or glossed over and the facilitator is not encouraging the team to dig deeper.  The dynamics of this team make me think of Lyssa Adkins's high performance tree, and I'm hoping that the metaphor can help the team to recognize that there is room for improvement.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.