Looking in the mirror

Published 2/21/2022

It’s common practice at the end of the year to take a moment to take stock of everything you’ve ticked off in the last 12 months. But is an annual review enough? How often should you be taking the time to get truly reflective about what worked, what didn't and what these lessons could mean for the future.

As the saying goes - the more reflective you are, the more effective you are - which is why team retrospective meetings are an important tool in building a high performing organisation. And they’re not just for start-ups or those working within an agile environment; everyone can benefit from taking the time to reflect on previous work, review what’s been achieved, table ideas for improvement and record actionable steps towards continual change.

Those who don’t take the time to look back on performance may be noticing that projects are missing the process and efficiency needed to deliver on expected outcomes within expected timeframes. They may be seeing the same mistakes crop up, too many times. They may not be getting the best out of their team, and their team may not feel like they are getting the feedback they need to grow. A retrospective provides the time, space and perspective to address these underperforming patterns or processes and ultimately improve your team’s ability to execute on future projects. 

However, retrospectives are not just about what needs work, but also about celebration. They are a chance to learn from what others are doing, take the time to consider how our colleagues are feeling and, importantly, actually stop to thank each other publicly. 

It’s easy to get so busy responding to requests and processing information that we miss these opportunities to process performance and outcomes as an observer, rather than someone who is right in the thick of it. Making retrospectives a regular part of your project schedule gives your team the space they need to reflect on their own contributions, as well as what they can leverage from the actions of others. 

At X is Y, we run team retrospectives every two weeks throughout the year. At the end of the year we then run a “retro of retros” to reflect on how well our retros have identified areas of improvement, and how well we’ve executed on any actions we identified. The outcomes of these retros should give us tangible feedback that:

  • Facilitates greater transparency within our team

  • Empowers autonomy in owning actions and professional development

  • Perpetuates collaborative company culture and camaraderie

  • Improves engagement, communication and productivity

  • Gives us all a clearer understanding of goals

  • Enables us to further refine our processes

  • Helps us identify issues or roadblocks early

Holding an effective retrospective

A retro needs to be a safe space for everyone to celebrate what they did well, consider how some things could be improved in the future, and think about any tasks that can be wound down. The more organised and productive your retro is, the more engaged your team will be and the better the outcomes you’ll achieve. Consistent scheduling creates trust, familiarity and a sense of security where your team will become more open, reflective and comfortable in sharing their own perspectives.

Our key tips for an effective retrospective meeting:

  • Make it easy by using RandomRetros, a site that provides suggested formats for running your retros. Retros can otherwise become a bit boring, unless you change up the format every now and then.

  • Ensure that everyone is participating.

  • Everyone’s opinion is valid.

  • Remember to amplify the good, too.

  • Record all actions people come up with and select a couple to try out next time.

  • Consider including an empathy map exercise as part of your review. An Empathy Map is a collaborative and visual tool that the X is Y team draws on to gain deeper insights and build empathy for our clients and stakeholders, and protects it from bias or unfounded assumptions.

The end of the year, when you’re likely winding down new activities, is still an ideal opportunity to stop and reflect on learnings - even if it’s a personal retrospective. But creating opportunities for more regular reflection - and celebration - can help optimise business performance, strengthen team connection and camaraderie, identify areas for individual growth and improvement, and build a culture of transparency and accountability.

When are you doing your next team retro?

If you’re keen to find out more about running effective retrospectives, check out our reflections workshop and then get in touch to book yours.

A well-dressed professional looking into a mirror.

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