How can your team continuously improve?
This article is a simple template for a basic type of a retrospective meeting – a common meeting used especially in Agile frameworks which can be used even outside Agile. I use it as the primary mechanism for continuous improvement in teams and organizations where I consult.
- To see what the team and its members enjoy and are grateful for and what the team and/or its members want to improve and to find action steps to the things the team wants to improve the most.
- Checking whether something in the team is seriously wrong (there is a need for an experienced person in the moderator role here)
Attendance of the meeting:
Ideally the whole team, but if someone can’t, then someone can’t.
Roles on the meeting:
- Moderator – moderates the whole meeting so that it goes towards the goals and based on the structure.
- Participant – everyone else.
- Team – all of the participants together.
Meeting frequency and length:
- Once a week – Once every two months
- 1 – 2 hours (Note: the more often you have the meeting, the shorter it can be)
- Meeting room with a table and chairs for the whole team
- Sticky notes (At least 10 for each participant)
- Board (ideally, whiteboard) divided into two columns (“+” and “-“) with enough space to put sticky notes on
- Pen (1 for each participant)
Structure of the meeting:
- Moderator introduces the meeting, its goals, and structure + a little more info around.
- Each of the participants writes on “sticky notes” in silence “things that they enjoy or that went well” and “things that they don’t like and would like to improve”.
- Participants go to the board one by one with their sticky notes, stick them to the right column and verbally comment on each sticky note so that the remaining people can better understand what others enjoy and what they want to improve.
- When everyone shares their thoughts, we put similar sticky notes together and create clusters. This is done by the moderator and maybe one volunteer while others have a short break.
- Participants vote for the clusters that we want to discuss by the end of the meeting. Not everything can be discussed, so it needs priorities. Everyone in the audience has the same number of votes – I use 4 – and can divide them between 1 and 4 clusters/topics.
- The team goes to discuss topics from the one with the most votes until either there is no left topic (this has never happened to me in any team) or the time of the meeting expires or the energy of the people is gone. For each topic discussed, the team tries to find action steps and if there are some which people in the team all agree on, the moderator writes them down. Action steps should ideally have assigned responsibilities and deadlines.
- Moderator summarized and ends the meeting
After the meeting:
- After the meeting, the moderator sends her notes and photographs of the board from the meeting to the meeting participants with action steps.
- The action steps might be put to a place where the team has a smaller chance to forget them – probably to some project management tool like JIRA or Asana.
- The team starts to work on the action items.
More about this meeting:
- In the environment where I come from, such a meeting is called a retrospective, and this format is one of the most commonly used retrospective formats.
- I know from experience that this can be one of the best and at the same time one of the worst meetings a team can have. There is a high chance that this will lead to the solution of many serious problems that block long-term satisfaction, efficiency, or other aspects of proper team functioning. Or that these problems are at least acknowledged and started to be solved. There is also a non-trivial chance that the meeting will be unpleasant and unproductive (bad emotions, someone rejects the problem and her responsibility, blames others, …). There’s also a small chance, it can be harmful (hurt feelings, damaged relationships), but this is typically only when the situation in the team is already quite bad, something important has not been openly talked about for a long time – then, at least, the meeting will point out serious things that need to be addressed.
- If the team has had a retrospective in the past, it’s a good idea to start by recalling that meeting – areas for improvement, action steps agreed by the team and checking whether the team thinks there was an improvement in the previously identified areas and whether the action steps have been done.
Do you like this and want help?
I have lead this meeting many times in many different companies and teams. I use it as a part of organizational audits and I can also moderate this meeting for your organization as a 1-time consulting service and after the meeting, I can even give you my impressions about the team, its dynamics, culture, climate, and things the team needs.