Want To Make Your Team More Productive? Host A Retrospective

Published October 29, 2019 by David Horowitz

Are you as a manager struggling to ignite the fire within the hearts and hands of your team?
Then it’s time for you to host a retrospective. Here’s why: 

It happens to any team. Everyone is aligned and is working together to crush quarterly goals. Then all of a sudden, progress halts and along with it, productivity levels start to plummet. As a manager or team leader, you’re probably hitting your head against your desk in order to understand why your team’s output has taken a downturn. 

Today’s modern teams are expected to consistently produce great results in a short amount of time. This better and faster style to working, without providing an opportunity for collective introspection, is the swift track to low productivity and efficiency. 

In a study by E&Y and The Energy Project, they found that team who regularly check-in as a group to share their plans, setbacks, and successes on a weekly basis were “so much more efficient and productive that they were able to get their work done in fewer hours.” 

In other words, for your team to maintain high productivity levels, it’s important to give them a designated time to pause, reflect, and improve. It’s time to put that retrospective meeting on the calendar.

What Is A Retrospective

Simply put, a retrospective is a practice of reflection in which an entire team gets together in order to assess their work and then create a plan to improve it. 

Most retrospectives focus on answering these three questions:

  1. What is working well? 👍
  2. What is not working well? 😒
  3. What should we change? 🤔

The retrospective, also known as the sprint retrospective, is this idea of continuous improvement and productivity.  Retrospectives are most commonly used by software development teams but its gaining popularity with all types of teams thanks to their ability to foster collaboration, learning, and action.   

Retrospectives stem from the agile methodology. This methodology according to Agile Alliance is “the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.” 

In other words, agile is an intentional and critical way to assess how your team is working together and how they can improve collectively. But why is this so important to improving your team’s productivity? 

In their book, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, Diane Larsen and Esther Derby identify several benefits to hosting retrospectives including improved quality, capacity, empowerment, and enjoyment. During a retrospective, members of a team have the opportunity to share their perspectives and concerns as well as provide feedback for change and improvement. 

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to take this feedback in order to set goals and the path to achieve them. Your team can work efficiently when they know what needs to be accomplished and they feel valued in the process. 

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, employees who feel valued have higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, and motivation, compared to those who do not feel valued by their employers.

With the right facilitation, retrospectives are a fail-proof way to not only come together and talk openly about areas for improvement but also generate an action-assigned plan for the future.

How to host a retrospective

The Productivity Boosting Benefits Of Retrospectives

Intentional reflection is essential when your team is working hard and fast to ship a new product or campaign. To get back on the productivity bandwagon, your team needs to take a moment together to understand what’s working and what’s not in order to continuously improve and perform. The path to improved performance is kickstarted when you host retrospectives, create actions for the team to work on together, and focus everyone in a direction to achieve common goals. 

If you’re not hosting retrospectives, now is the time to start! The benefits of hosting regular retrospectives will make your team grateful for the opportunity to take an active role in reflecting and improving their work. 

In addition to increased productivity and improved performance, here are a few more benefits you’ll realize when hosting regular retrospectives with your team: 

1. (Great) Retrospectives Improve Team Morale

Unhappy employees = less productive employees. According to a study performed at the University of Warwick, employee satisfaction directly impacts workplace productivity.

One of the researchers of the study, Dr. Sgroi, explains: 

"The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”  

Investing in employee happiness pays off. The economic researchers discovered that “companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, productivity rose by 37%.”

In order to foster happy employees, it’s imperative to allow each team member to feel heard, valued, and safe to express themselves.

If your employees often feel discouraged and exhausted after a sprint, a retrospective is a perfect time to debrief, come together, and express frustrations in hopes of remedying any challenges in the future. It’s important to ensure anonymity during the retrospective so your team is encouraged to participate without feeling as if they are being criticized for sharing their ideas.  

The goal is for your team to leave the retrospective feeling valued, optimistic, and energized. As employee morale lifts, you should see a direct correlation with increased productivity during your next sprint. 

2. Retrospectives Facilitate Learning

The main goals of a retrospective are to reflect, learn, apply, and improve. Without knowing which aspects were deemed successes and failures, there is no room for change.

According to research and a working paper by Harvard Business School researchers, it has been shown that reflecting on what you’ve done teaches you to do it better next time. In their studies, they also found that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater perceived ability to achieve a goal. 

An effective retrospective will allow participants to reflect on their actions, opinions, and processes, and it will also open each team member’s mind to those of their colleagues. People can learn a lot from others and their experiences but only if there is a time for reflection. 

With a well-facilitated retrospective, team members will feel safe to divulge their suggestions, and others can absorb these new perspectives and apply them to future projects.

Retrospectives also facilitate learning about your team’s unique dynamics and distinctive processes. In order to move forward with clear minds, it’s important to understand how your team works together, where the overall morale stands, and what the majority agrees are the pain points that need to be improved.

boost productivity with retrospective meeting

3. Fuel Action With The Retrospective Follow-Up

Retrospectives will show you and your team the gaps and strengths in your processes. If the retrospective was successful, each team member should be able to identify the gaps, and what their role looks like in closing them. With a clear action plan comes productivity, clarity, and a better ability to push ahead.

Kent McDonald of KBP Media explains:

"You want to use an action-focused approach to retrospectives to ensure that your retrospective discussions generate action and follow up rather than just being a forum for your team to air their gripes.” 

By the end of your meeting, you should be able to clearly point to actionable tasks the team can work on. You can generate action items by first conducting anonymous team votes. The votes help the group to determine what should be discussed in which priority.  The group then pivots into the retrospective discussion to allow each team member to speak freely on the agreed upon topic(s) and suggest ideas for next steps. 

As the manager and facilitator, it’s important that you keep the focus on the positive and on ways the team can improve and innovate together. 

By discovering areas for improvement and brainstorming solutions from the bottom-up,  team members will find it easier to prioritize tasks, feel empowered, and spend less time feeling lost in translation. Now watch your team’s productivity soar! 🚀

Types Of Retrospectives

Now that you know the benefits of retrospectives, which one should you host? Here are a few of our favorites retrospectives at Retrium:

  • Mad, Sad, Glad: Put simply, this is an exercise to allow participants to give open-ended answers on what made them frustrated, disappointed, and happy during the sprint. This is a great way to check the emotional pulse of your team.
  • Lean Coffee: This is an agenda-less retrospective, where participants vote on which topics they’d like to prioritize and then discuss them.
  • Start, Stop, Continue: This is a great way to generate action-oriented feedback, by asking participants which actions they believe should be introduced, which actions should be stopped going forward, and what they believe to be helpful and should continue doing.

Start Hosting Retrospectives Regularly

You can’t measure the success of your retrospective without hosting another one and another one. Consistent retrospectives have been shown to increase team performance. As you get in the groove, you’ll be able to measure and track progress. 

By hosting regular retrospectives, you can easily monitor over time which areas of your team and its processes are improving, and which areas still need attention. This is a great way to stay on top of productivity and energize your team every few weeks in between sprints.

Regular retrospectives also promote team trust, communication, and transparency. The more often you come together to reflect as a team, the more you will learn and grow together. 

Practice makes perfect, and soon the quality of your retrospectives will improve, and thus their value will as well. Now that you’re excited to host a retrospective and produce a more productive team, discover even more in’s and out’s of this game-changing approach in our Ultimate Guide To Agile Retrospectives.

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