Shut the door and listen from outside

17 Apr, 2019
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At a certain point, you start to finish each other’s statements. Teams that have been together for a while can breed a sort of shorthand in their communication. This has a lot of upsides, but it can also cause, for example, predictable retrospectives. Retrospectives should trigger learning and improvement. When they become predictable I feel I’m missing out on something important. Is the forced recurrence a trigger for sameness, should we be doing retrospectives whenever we have an opportunity for learning? Or maybe it’s me, am I causing the predictability? Should I…

“Shut the door and listen from outside” it states on one of the cards in the Oblique Strategies deck. A set of cards with short statements created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. They are designed to break creative blocks in music production by adding a constraint, a bit of chaos or uncertainty. Even though I’m not a musician I do like these cards. They are often just vague enough that you can find a relation to your current situation. However, there must be more fitting ways to add some uncertainty to a retrospective.

Turn it upside down

One way to tickle the brain is to experiment with the format of a retrospective. Retromat and GameStorming offer a great selection of new and fun ways to organize your retrospectives. The formats offer metaphors or other framing devices to look at your team’s performance from another perspective.
While I found these format changes to be very helpful to get new insights, they are still often purely focussed on team performance (which is the main goal of a retrospective), and for me, the discussion still feels bound by this focus.
What else can be changed, other than the format?

Breathe more deeply

Change the venue. A meeting room with a whiteboard is convenient, and I like coffee as much as the next guy, but you’re not bound to this location. Go to a nearby bar, and have a drink with your colleagues. A little bit of alcohol might increase creative problem-solving. Creative juices also get flowing when you take a walk. Which has another added benefit, you’re moving forward together.
Change the subject. Discuss your team performance by accident. For example, we once listened to a podcast, Hidden Brain’s episode about Deep Work, and discussed the findings presented here. This resulted in our team experimenting with “Deep Work Sessions”. A scheduled time block in which we moved away from the open office into a closed room and deactivated all notifications (except for one dedicated person). Maybe we would have done something like this eventually, we had never discussed it something related to it in earlier retrospective.

Don’t be frightened of clichés

Retrospect your retrospective. Make sure you’re still getting enough value out of it, keep learning and improving. Experiment with different formats, or even venues and subjects. Do what’s right for you and your team.

Acknowledgment: all headings are taken from Oblique Strategies.

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