The Importance of Self-Awareness

Inspect, Adapt and React to Change

One of the most critical aspects of any agile process is the inspection/adaptation cycle. However, retrospective meetings often feel pointless because nobody can think of anything to say. If they do, it’s usually a positive platitude. While great for morale and team strength, the power of agility is somewhat wasted here. You have ignored your opportunity to react to change. This is not necessarily due to feeling pressured (though that is sometimes the case). The team just lacks the mindset that allows them to identify places where they’re being held back.

Team trust is essential

Often times teams also lack the insight required to locate the best solution to any of the problems identified. For example, while teams might realize that they are being hurt by an unresponsive stakeholder during the sprint, their first response might be to simply follow up more. The team’s instincts are to compensate for an external problem instead of changing they way they work to eliminate the problem.

To ensure a productive retrospective, team members must trust each other enough to feel comfortable openly criticizing themselves and each other. Team members must be willing to put everything on the table and objectively evaluate it, no matter how deeply rooted it is. Team members have to be invested in their team’s productivity, even if it plays at odds with their own comfort.

Objectively Evaluate

Getting people to think this way is not easy, and to some degree must be learned from life experience. However, there are a few ways to create an environment that facilitates this behavior in teams.

  • Ensure that the retrospective is a safe space. Consider excluding managers from the meeting (unless they are also product owners). Definitely exclude product stakeholders. The scrum master should be ready and willing to step in to steer the discussion away from anything finger-pointing or non-constructive criticism. If the discussion gets too emotional (and it could), the scrum master should be ready to defuse the situation by temporarily changing the topic, calling a short break, or other techniques to gauge the room and keep everyone focused.
  • Foster a culture of self-improvement, on a team level if your company doesn’t have any initiatives you can support. This is great for overall team effectiveness by encouraging members to become more T-shaped. More importantly, by asking a team member what they might want to learn and invest in themselves, you can spark thought into what areas the team member feels weak in. This can lead to retrospective discussions around personal performance within the team, and can evolve to discussions around the team as a whole.
  • Encourage more interaction between the team and the larger business. The main benefits come from building empathy between your team and the other business units they may be supporting. This is generally useful because it can give great insight in terms of finding the best product solution, but in the context of the retrospective, it also gives the team more ownership over the business’s goals. It’s harder to cast blame for a problem on someone you just had lunch with. After some casual discussion with a stakeholder and building up empathy, the team will find themselves looking for ways they can change to fit into a stakeholder’s busy schedule, instead of looking for ways they can grab more attention.

The Benefits

Getting your team to more productively self-evaluate in this fashion will enable them to get better over time, regardless of how well they are already doing. They become more honest, more open to criticism, and more flexible. They unlock the potential of a self-organizing, self-motivated team within your company.

Get your project started today

Get in Touch