By Faye Tsampardouka, Scrum Master / Agile Coach at Beat
Have you ever found yourself trapped in a situation where, a cumbersome out of reach impediment has been identified by the team during retrospectives? Well, I guess I am not the only one and even if this feels relieving, it does not solve the problem of how to run a retrospective in such a case, or does it?
As a Scrum Master in a mature team we have taken a project, which lasted for approximately four Sprints. During the first two Sprints a huge impediment rose and, as expected, discussed in detail. Surprisingly, it led to a dead end leaving me in despair! The next step was to take this impediment to my fellow Scrum Masters (the notorious Agile Chapter) and ask for help, still having some hope that together we could tackle this thing down. The impediment was escalated to the Executive Action Team and the decision was that this was not the right moment to go for it. Meanwhile, the time was ticking and the upcoming Retrospective, the third in fact, was very close and I had to deal with an overwhelmed team.
So, I had to figure out how to run a Retrospective without spending valuable time that should be spent in learning rather than into nattering over something that we could not deal with, at least at the moment. The answer came to me when I bumped into a quote saying: “If you cannot change the world, change the way you see it”. Well, not exactly, but it made me shift my focus from that particular impediment to myself.
Could I guide the team to do just that? Shift their focus from a certain impediment over to themselves. Adopting a more self-reflective approach the team could detach and focus on those things that they could actually influence, taking into account the aspects that they could improve in themselves. Well, I thought I would try it, get some feedback and retrospect myself. And I did. So here I present the Self Reflective Retrospective.
The goal is to guide the team to a mindset change. Well, change is not an easy thing to pursue and does not happen in a glimpse, but we are Scrum Masters after all!
The most important thing is to focus and promote positive behaviors. However, there is a trap here. Staying in the positive side without acknowledging the painful points could be rather superficial. What we want to do, is to acknowledge what we could change and then focus on the positive stuff. And remember, even in the gloomiest situations there must be something you have done right. So identify and promote the good decisions and behaviors and good luck!
Set the Stage
Personally, I prefer starting the Retrospective with a humorous approach, thus my favorite “Set the Stage” activity is the “Sprint as a …” with a twist. Here you can find some examples I have used over the times (I borrowed some from my fellow Scrum Masters):
- Sprint as a superhero
- Sprint as a car
- Sprint as drink
- Sprint as an animal
So, now that you relaxed and laughed a bit, you can move to the tough stuff.
Have in mind that this activity requires a highly trusting team since its members will have to be exposed and talk about the good and the bad aspects of their behaviors.
Evil Me – Angel Me Activity
Take a blank paper, divide it into two columns with headers “Evil Me” and “Angel Me” respectively. Give each team member one paper. This activity requires to think over several situations during the Sprint (I would suggest max 3) and identify how you reacted. Was the “Evil” you or the “Angel” you? Now think how you could have handled it in a different way. I suggest finding at least one case for each. You do not want to stay too long on bad but mainly on good behaviors. Afterall, coaching by example is far more effective than by correction!
“During the Planning meeting I lost my temper several times.” Obviously, this was my “Evil Me”. Οn the contrary, the “Angel Me” would have been more patient and gentle. After all, these guys are my mates!
What is more, during the Sprint, the “Angel Me” resisted the urge to interrupt while the “Evil Me” could continue with this annoying habit.
The key here is for everyone to identify how they could influence and even shape their environment. During this part, a strongly bonded team could suggest ways to support each individual in pursuing their best behaviors. The most important thing is to focus on good behaviors.
Decide what to do
The Action Items part of this Retrospective format is a little bit tricky. I would be impressed if you could define specific Action Items during such a Retrospective. The actual Action Items could be an ethical contract among team members to try expressing a better version of themselves. I would love the idea of updating the Working Agreements of the team after this session.
The major gain for the team is not as trivial and specific as usual. It is an opportunity for coaching towards a sense of accountability and ownership rather than using impediments as an excuse for not learning and improving. The team just made a significant step to self-knowledge and empowerment!
P.S. Do not forget to handle that impediment!