A guest post from Dr Marcin Remarczyk on a new retrospective technique encouraging empathy…

Retrospectives are increasingly a common element of agile ways of working and part of every Scrum Master’s toolbox. And whilst their effectiveness and benefits are widely recognized, it is worth experimenting with different flavors of applied formats and facilitation techniques. In this blog, I share a recent experience from retrospectives conducted with a team in the media industry where the idea has been to look back from someone else’s perspective.

Just in case you happen not to be an agile evangelist …

Those of you who are long-time converts and religiously follow the Agile Manifesto, are well aware of the 12th Agile Principle: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”. Typically, Agile teams use retrospectives to continuously improve their ways of working. The key aspects of a retrospective are to “inspect” – how the latest iteration or “Sprint” (mini-phase of perhaps a few weeks) has gone; and to “adapt” – to decide on what and how they want to improve their processes. The facilitator must be equipped with a repertoire of techniques, recognizing which are most suitable in light of the current state of the team.

What I want to share with you touches exactly upon this area. I recently facilitated a retrospective with a medium size team in the media industry. Whereas often retrospectives are centered on the “how I felt”, “what did I like” and “what did I not like”, I have enriched this format by shifting the perspective from “the self” to “others”.

Name from a hat

Essentially, the challenge was to put ourselves into the shoes of another colleague. To achieve this, I asked the team to put their name on a Post-It note and throw it into a hat. Then, with the hat full of names, draw one Post-It out. Naturally this meant that everyone in the team drew either a colleague or themselves. To keep it simple, I asked the participants to imagine being the person they drew and think about that person’s experience in from two perspectives, namely “what went well” and “what could have been better”. And for each of these two, they had to write down two to three things on separate Post-Its. This could be anything from “felt fully integrated within the team and developed myself further” to “felt under-utilised throughout the Sprint”. Completing this task within 5-10min, each team member placed their stickies notes on a board divided into the two above categories, but not mentioning the individual’s name they were introducing. Once described, I then asked the team to “Guess Who?” the person was represented by the Post Its. Once each individual was revealed, he or she could validate, disagree or add any comments to complete the picture. After that we clustered the Post-Its into common themes, and, in a final step, translated these clusters into actionable tasks with owners.

The increased power of talking about each other

Having spoken about the mechanics to allow you to replicate this approach and test it with the teams you work with, it is worth highlighting the benefits of this way of facilitating a retrospective. It boils down to the emotional effects of hearing from others about how we felt. It creates the right tension between seeing our own view validated and a possible gap between what we feel and how we appear to others. Learning from this can be substantial if team members open up fully to what they hear. We experience that others do notice us and our feelings which is likely to increase the team cohesion and inclusiveness. We feel heard and supported which is important especially when dealing with the challenges we face. It can also help us to become more self-aware by recognising that sometimes our behaviors or simply our body language can send signals which may discourage others and/or create a negative aura around us. In particular, if not intended, we can take measures to address these behaviours and learn to deal with our obstacles in a more positive and pro-active manner, thus reducing the effect on other team members. But why don’t you go ahead and use your next retrospective to try this out yourself.

Dr Marcin Remarczyk is a London-based Business Psychologist and an Associate Director at Cognizant Business Consulting.

Image credit: http://imaginationisspicy.com/