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Facilitating Goal-Driven Retrospectives to Build Your Team’s Growth Mindset

How to build trust and stronger relationships by focusing on opportunities for growth and learning

Photo of a small green plant sprouting from a crack in hard soil

I recently presented on the topic of incident management and post-mortems at the Kansas City Drupal Flyover Camp. I fielded many questions related to running sprint-based retrospectives, particularly during times of enhanced stress and pressure, as many of us currently find ourselves in. Most of the questions were centered around how to persuade your teammates to attend a retrospective and participate in a meaningful way. 

The answer lies not in persuasion, but in shifting your team from a fixed mindset (“this is how we do things, we can’t change”) to a growth mindset (“how can we learn and improve?”). Retros are one way of making this shift, and have the potential to achieve many great outcomes, including:

  • The team reflects on what went well in the last sprint and identifies ways to reproduce it, 
  • Team members build trust and develop stronger relationships, and
  • The team reflects on challenges, notes ways to improve, and leaves feeling more resilient. 

Interested in transforming your retro to achieve these outcomes? Let’s dive into how we get there!

What is a retrospective?

A retrospective, used in the agile methodology, is the time (usually 30 minutes) within a sprint that a team reflects on their way of working. The team tries to understand how they can become better at what they do and how they do it. Retrospectives are driven by the twelfth principle of the Agile Manifesto, which reads:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. 

There are many different styles of the agile retrospective and my favorite is the sailboat retro, which focuses on the wind in their sail (what’s going well), what the team’s anchors are (what are the team’s current challenges), and what icebergs are ahead (what are the risks the team can foresee). It is a particularly helpful retrospective style if your team is encountering challenges with tools, process, workflow, team cohesion, or collaboration. 

Retros aren’t always easy to run, though. When managed poorly, a retrospective can easily veer into a blame game (focusing on ‘me’ or ‘you’ versus ‘we’) and can give the most vocal of opinions the platform without arriving at a path forward. Teammates will often start to opt out of these sessions and you may find they are the first meetings to be removed from the calendar when time is tight. 

This is a missed opportunity to learn how you can improve together. 

Retros and the growth mindset

When facilitated and managed well, retrospectives can propel a team towards success by building a growth mindset. The growth mindset simply states that people can change and grow. Those with the growth mindset believe that ability and skill sets can be developed through hard work, reflection, trying new strategies, and getting input from others. This mindset allows people to enjoy the process of learning, to seek out experiments, and to view setbacks as opportunities. 

Retrospectives, and the growth mindset, build confidence and collaboration among team members. Teammates become happier and more fulfilled knowing that they can get better. Rather than thinking, “I’m such a bad teammate, I can’t close my tickets by the end of a sprint,” the teammate shifts to, “I’m new to creating this particular type of deliverable, I would value some coaching,” and something that could come out of a retrospective is a pair session where two teammates solve this tricky problem (and learn!) together. 

Goal-oriented retrospectives 

As the facilitator of a retro, I always state to the team that we are all in a place where we are assuming good intent of teammates - that is, we truly believe that each teammate made their best effort over the period of time we are reflecting and performed in the best way they could for the team and our client. This sets the tone of the session immediately. The retro becomes a safe space for teammates to share mistakes and be vulnerable -- creating an atmosphere of reflection and learning for the overall benefit and improvement of the team. 

Want to really elevate your retro? It’s not enough to talk about what went well, what slowed you down, and what you learned. Unless your team is willing to define goals at the end of a retro, the session often becomes an ineffective formality of agile ceremonies. Make the retrospective focused and goal-oriented. 

I dedicate the last 5-10 minutes of a retro for the team to reflect on everything shared. This is a key part of the practice. Based on the team’s reflections, we identify 2-3 goals that we’ll hone in on for the next sprint. Action items are assigned out and the retro goals are shared in a common space, such as Slack. This allows the team to check in with one another throughout the sprint and see how we’re taking steps to improve together. 

Conclusion 

Retrospectives are powerful ways to create sustainable growth for a team and/or company, in that they can transition a team from a fixed to a growth mindset. The fear of being judged is put aside and what follows from goal-oriented retrospectives is often courage and innovation. The project then becomes an engine for growth and opportunity for team members.

Want to take your retro even one step further? Share your team’s lessons learned with your department or company. Demonstrate your team’s desire to learn and build their skills and abilities and encourage others to do the same. 

Want to learn more about the growth mindset? Check out “Mindset: Change the way you think to fulfil your potential” by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, my favorite book! Learn something interesting? Have questions about retrospectives and the growth mindset? Feel free to reach out on Twitter @palantir.

Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash.

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