Retros at home

Self-reflection is known to be an important part of personal development, team improvement and making change happen. The armed forces do it after every mission, agile teams do it at the end of sprints, traditional project teams do it after each project stage, we’re all encouraged to be more mindful and journal every day and the best leaders are coached to regularly pause and reflect for greater learning. So this week I decided to try it with the family. 

I’ve been leading agile teams at work in various ways for a while and I find regular retros (the practice of thinking about what’s gone well, what’s not gone well and actions to improve) beneficial for teams in a couple of ways. There’s the obvious benefit of the team talking about how to get better, and assuming you do actually take the actions you agree, it means the team does quickly get more effective. I’ve also found, particularly with new teams, it helps people to get to know each other better. It creates a space to be open about how you’re feeling and to give feedback, which spills over into how the team interacts the rest of the time, helping to reinforce the psychological safety that’s so critical for a creative, productive team. 

I decided to give a retro a go at home because we’re living in a new way – one of the benefits of lock-down was seeing my step kids (aged 16 and 12) more often which we’re all keen to continue so they are now with us alternate weeks, with them back in school and my partner and I working from home. I wanted to have a conversation about how we’re all finding it and what, if anything, we need to change to make it better. We probably could have just talked about it but I thought a bit more structure might help. So having got my partner on side and given the kids one day advance warning, we got the post-its out after dinner and I gave two ground rules: 

  • the kind of mindset we all need to have: open, honest, kind, non-judgy
  • that we have to do the actions we agree

Then we were off. Green post-its for what we like, pink ones for what we don’t like and then a discussion about what actions we should take, writing those on yellow post-its. I appreciate that I am opening us up for a bunch of ridicule for doing this but…. everyone was open to doing it, to sharing what they thought and it brought up things that we hadn’t talked about before.

Most of it was practical things such as: could I work somewhere else so that the kids don’t have to be in the back of my video calls when they get home from school (easily solved by me moving to the other side of the table), can we agree times for showers in the morning and can we come up with a joint exercise schedule. There were also some more intangible things like not liking that some people go quiet when they aren’t ok and won’t talk about what’s wrong. That got us into a deeper conversation than we’ve had about those things before, I think because we were in a safe space for openly thinking about how we live and sharing feedback. I also wonder if the act of using post-its (or anything to write it on) helps as it’s slightly more detached than bringing a topic up directly, verbally with someone.

I’m not planning to have home retros often but I would do it again occasionally. I found it generates the same sort of results as I’ve found with receptive teams at work – honesty, learning about each other, actions to make things better and more openness to giving and receiving feedback about hard things. I’m not advocating for everyone to try it at home but I’d definitely encourage you to get into the habit of doing so with your team if you don’t already. As Peter Drucker said: “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.” You can’t change the world with an ineffective team or an incorrectly scheduled morning shower. 

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