The landscape of the modern workplace is revolutionising, and in moving with the times, my employer (apart from embracing flexible work – win!) has made a commitment to progress to the ‘Agile’ way of working. Change is rarely easy (says the seasoned tree changer!) but I accept that this transformation will ensure that we collaborate more quickly and easily to deliver better, faster outcomes for our customers.

I may not have enough air time to detail every aspect of Agile, but there is one Agile essential which you need to know, and that, is ‘the retrospective’!

So what is ‘the retrospective’?

According to the Agile Alliance [more info here:] a ‘retrospective’ requires the team to meet and reflect on the most significant events which have occurred and make decisions to remediate or improve. The meeting is facilitated and attendees reflect on what is working, what isn’t working, and what needs to be done to ensure the overall goal is achieved in the most efficient way.

Apply this to any professional or personal setting, and it is an opportunity to stop and reflect on a situation, learn from what has occurred and ask for and listen to feedback from all stakeholders.

Why is a retrospective so important?

Professionally:  a retrospective takes the team ‘out of the weeds’ so they can ensure the goal is still accurate and the tasks are still aligned to that goal. All attendees have a voice, ownership and responsibility for the overall success of the process which promotes genuine ‘buy in’.  It may seem like a simple thing – but when was the last time you actually took time out to stop and reflect on your day jobs as a collective and make changes accordingly?  

Personally: a retrospective (or perhaps in this context best described as a ‘reflection’?) is crucial to maintaining relationships built on trust. Emotions often cloud reality, but by enforcing a version of the retrospective into your personal life, you will quickly learn to compartmentalise the emotion from the facts, and challenge your own reality, leading to better decisions.

My retrospective tool  – “Talk Back Time”

The team I co-manage is highly regulated and governed by strict legislation and active case law. In this context, it is often difficult to change processes. However, after experiencing the positive impact retrospectives can have on workplace culture and efficient work practices (more detailed below if you are still with me!), I decided to implement the ‘retrospective’ on a more personal level, and the outcome has been brilliant. I’m sharing this with you to show you how easy it can be to implement one of the most fundamental Agile essentials into your workplace and positively impact your outcomes right now!

For context, my role has legal, technical, compliance and strategic duties. I am also responsible for quality assurance, sustainable and legally sound decisions, coaching, developing and training the team (hmmm, I think I should be asking for a pay rise!).  At the end of the day, if I’m not getting it right, the whole team may be impacted.

So, I created my own retrospective tool – ‘Talk Back Time’. These are regular 1:1 sessions I have with all 17 members of the team. In these sessions I ask for honest feedback about what I’m doing well, what I’m not doing well, what they want more of, less of, and what is working for them personally. The insight I have gained from these sessions is invaluable. I have been able to tailor specific coaching plans to each team member, identify training opportunities that truly reflect the need, and amend my QA processes to better suit the team’s pace and priorities.

Talk Back Time has helped me grow as a leader, given me greater insight into the impact I can have on others, and encouraged the team to stop and reflect and look for ways to improve how we work better together. As leaders we are often caught up providing feedback to our teams and making changes based on our own perspectives. These sessions have flipped the thinking and given the team the confidence to come forward with feedback knowing it will be respected and acknowledged. The changes I have incorporated have had more ‘buy in’ than any approach I tried previously, because they are made based on an informed reflection.

Talk Back Time has built on the trust I have in my team, and trust they also have in themselves.

The retrospective – on a grand scale

The idea of a retrospective is not just limited to the small fry, in fact the last 18 months of my career has been spent overhauling the operating rhythm with my peers and our leaders – a mammoth project which itself arose out of an intense retrospective by the Senior Leadership team. Reflecting on past processes and performance lead to the realisation that major change was required. This took time, sweat and tears (perhaps the most difficult time in my career!) but the outcome speaks for itself, and the learnings have been priceless. We now have a highly engaged team, more efficient work practices, and our performance is the best it has been in years. The change has been so drastic that even our stakeholders across the business, customers and clients have called it out on a number of occasions.

Ongoing retrospectives will no doubt be more valuable as we continue to implement our new operating rhythm, but I felt compelled to share our success now to motivate you to give it a go!

So, when is your next retrospective taking place?

The most important mindset to have in a successful retrospective is to acknowledge that even if everyone has a different perspective, their reality may be just as valid as yours. Feedback is a gift and if you choose to see it as an obstacle then the only real obstacle…. is you!