Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone complains about the way a project went, but nothing ever seems to get done about it? I know I have. A year ago our team was launching a community grand opening campaign, and I kept getting frustrated because we hadn't spent time upfront determining who would be the final decision-maker. With so many differing opinions and a lack of clarity around leadership, the project became very confusing.
Later on, when I was chatting with a colleague I learned I wasn’t the only one who was frustrated by these same things. In fact, several members of the team had similar opinions on the project, and had ideas about how we could approach this better. What we needed at the time was a safe space to voice our concerns and discuss solutions for how it could be improved. And our team isn't alone. According to a 2017 study from Quantum Workforce, about half of employees don't regularly speak their mind at work -- whether to colleagues or managers. But we've since found a solution.
Get honest team feedback with a retrospective meeting
At Bokka, our go-to in these types of situations is to get everyone together and hold a very specific type of meeting called a retrospective. This meeting encourages participants to provide honest feedback on a particular project or issue, a campaign launch, for example, share what went well and what could be improved. A retrospective is a meeting where you look back and discuss your team's successes and failures in a safe environment. It allows everyone to agree on what should change next time around, and establish a plan for how to make those improvements. Whether trying to improve the outcome of a project or streamline internal processes, these meetings are an integral part of agile working environments to uncover areas of improvement and unify the team around the goal.
The benefits of a retrospective
- It creates a safe, blameless space for team to share valuable feedback.
- It allows the team to celebrate wins and recognize people for doing a great job.
- It provides an actionable list of next steps and identifies who’s owning which item.
- It identifies small, incremental changes that can lead to larger waves of improvement.
- It allows teams to iterate on their process to amplify results.
- It allows opinions to be heard.
- Encourages a culture of growth and continuous improvement, ensuring every project or quarter is better than the last.
Hosting your first retrospective
A great time to introduce a retrospective to your team is after completing a major project. This way, everyone gets comfortable with the concept.
Set-up for the retrospective (or "retro")
Reserve a room big enough to fit the team, with a large wall or whiteboard everyone in the room can see. You'll need to bring a few packs of index cards (at least 3 per person attending the meeting,) a roll or two of tape and enough sharpies for everyone on the team. No pencils or pens - they don't photograph well.
Using painters tape on a wall or lines drawn on the whiteboard, make a 3' x 3' plus sign, to create 4 quadrants: Happy, Sad, Ideas and Cheers. Make sure each quadrant is big enough that plenty of cards will fit once taped up. Distribute 3 index cards and a marker to each person attending and explain that they will fill out each of their cards with something about the project that fits into one of these categories:
- Happy: What went well? Discuss how the team met or exceeded expectations.
- Sad: What did not go well? Discuss how the team missed expectations. These also are typically one-off events – things that we don’t expect to repeat.
- Ideas: How can we can do better next time? Build on the things that did not go well, and how to figure out how to do it better next time. These can include a suggestion on how to do it better. Generally, the person presenting the idea card should be responsible for spearheading the solution. This keeps everyone accountable, and encourages action on every idea.
- Cheers: What went really well? Review outstanding performances, and offer big thank you’s. Every time a “Cheers” is put on the wall, everyone should clap to celebrate (might seem awkward at first, but it will catch on fast, I promise). An especially excellent one may deserve a standing ovation.
Get started with the retro
- Start off by welcoming everyone and agreeing upon some ground rules. Here's what we use, but feel free to adapt it or make your own to better suit your environment:
- Assume positive intent - don’t take things personally, we’re all here to improve and make things better
- Take turns - only one person speaks and places a card at a time. Everyone's has an equal voice.
- Be present - everyone should be on time and stay focused (no distracting devices)
- Listen with an open mind, and remember that everyone's experience is valid (even those you don't agree with).
- Set boundaries for discussion – is it the past two weeks? the last quarter? since the project started? Be clear about how far back you're going to go.
- Pace is determined by the slowest person - this will allow everyone to feel like they have enough time to get their thoughts out and no one feels rushed
- Explain the 4 quadrants and give each person 3 blank index cards. Let them know each card will end up going into one of the 4 quadrants. Give them enough time to complete their cards. This usually takes about 3-5 minutes, and don't go to the next step until everyone is finished writing.
It can be helpful to have an example card or 2 ready to stick on the wall to get it going.
[Example 1:] "Sally - for keeping us under budget" Put it in Cheers...and everyone claps.
[Example 2:] Write "Missed deadline" and put it in Sad - saying "I'm sad that we missed the deadline (and discuss). This may prompt someone to write an Idea card with a way to avoid this in the future.
- Now form a conga-style line (if you have more than 4 or 5 people) and take turns sticking them up on the board, one-by-one in one of the 4 quadrants. When placing your card, each person reads what they wrote and provides a brief explanation. Keep going sequentially until everyone’s gone through all of their cards. Don't forget - everyone claps when someone gets a "cheers!" - this keeps the attitude light, and the feedback balanced.
- Your meeting is complete when all the cards are up on the board, but don't stop there. Continue to build on what you’ve done by documenting your meeting. Do this by keeping the board, taking pictures, or recording it. This way you have a physical record of the conversation for later reference, or even training. Celebrating achievements is just as important as discussing ways to move forward. Make sure to recognize team efforts as well as contributors who've gone above and beyond. If major issues came out, continue to talk about it, and if necessary, schedule a deeper dive conversation.
- After each card is put up, ask “Does anyone have any comments or thoughts about that?” This discussion is important so that everyone can participate and synthesize what is being discussed.
- An easy trap to fall into with these meetings is an attempt to solve all the problems that come up. It's nearly impossible to do in a timely, productive meeting. Encourage the team to uncover issues and get alignment on each point, and limiting "solution-oriented" discussions. Often times, solving one issue can turn into a whole initiative on it's own.
- Practice - Once introduced, continue to hold retrospectives at the end of projects or on a more regular basis: monthly, quarterly depending on availability. Schedule these meetings at a pace that works for your team and, most importantly, stick to it. Even if there doesn’t seem to be much to discuss, you’ll be surprised what you will discover once everyone is in a room together. The more you practice, the more team members will continue thinking retrospectively outside the meeting, fostering a culture of constant improvement.
- If there's confusion as to where exactly a card goes (e.g. Happy v. Cheers), don't sweat it. There are no wrong answers, just encourage everyone to put it where they think it best fits, and the team will usually help out.
Changing the culture of your organization doesn't have to feel like an insurmountable task. By holding this one simple meeting, you can give your team the chance to voice their opinions, and come together to ensure every project or quarter is better than the last. Try hosting a retrospective and see for yourself the transformative effect it can have. Get your team on board and you'll wonder why you waited so long to try it!