When I started working as a Scrum Master, the biggest challenge I’ve faced was creating a good retrospective. My first instincts were to try out some regular questions, such as:
1. What should the team start doing?
2. What should the team stop doing?
3. What should the team continue doing?
These questions were working just fine for a while, until I noticed the outcome of every retrospective started to look the same — and that became a problem. We were mostly just repeating ourselves without making any substantial changes and what made it even more interesting, we didn’t see anything wrong with that. We thought our communication was great and we should just continue doing what we were doing, but after some time, we decided to change the way we were doing the retrospective. That’s when we realized that most of our problems appeared due to bad communication — we were a team, but we weren’t acting like one.
This year I was helping out with the organization of a sport event in Zagreb, Croatia. The work I did wasn’t related to COBE, it was just something I did on my own time. Now, the team that I was working with already had years of experience in this field and each person in the team was an expert in their own sector of work. Well, one of those sectors was in charge of the opening ceremony — which meant, after the ceremony was finished, everything needed to be properly cleaned up. If it was just up to those few people it would’ve taken them more than five hours to clean everything. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Everyone, including the boss, stepped up and helped out, even though it wasn’t in their job description.
What I realized then and there was that that’s the kind of team spirit we, at COBE, were missing. At least when it came to working together on projects. When it came to setting up new desks or decorating the office for Christmas, we would all step in and help out and that never represented a problem. It's just that sometimes we get so occupied by our own tasks that we forget others might be struggling too— and that's the change we needed to make.
The next logical step was to introduce changes and new possibilities where I could and the easiest way to do that was to improve the questions I mentioned at the beginning of the article. The main goal was to set some ground rules (because we were missing them), improve employee relationships while working together on projects and ultimately, build up the team spirit we were lacking.
Check out the new set of questions we came up with:
1. What’s the most important thing to have in your team?
First things first, you need to set expectations and team values. Since reading each other's minds is not an option, everything needs to be said out loud because that’s the only way everybody can be on the same page.
For example, the most important thing for me is to trust the people I’m working with. In this case, trust represents a value that needs to be set up in order to grow a healthy working environment.
2. What are you missing in your team?
Yet another question reflecting your team cooperation. Maybe, at some point, you felt your teammates didn’t have enough sympathy for you. Maybe you even felt isolated or misunderstood. The goal of this question is to make your team rethink the values that were broken (if anything was broken). This one’s all about those feelings.
3. How can you help your teammates?
Trust me, there’s always a way you can help each other. People connect best in situations where someone shows compassion, especially when it’s without any obligation. The only “obstacle” here is that, in order to create an environment like that, you need to start with yourself.
4. What did you miss during the Sprint?
Maybe there wasn’t enough time, the design was missing or the client just wasn’t available — think about those kind of situations in order to prevent them in the future. Also, ask yourself did you stop doing something that was maybe working before? Reflect on the sprint and think about all those factors that had an impact on it, internally and externally.
5. Is there anything you’re doing during a Sprint even though you don’t know why?
Sometimes people give out opinions on things and they're doing it not to be harmful - it's just that they really want to help. But during a Scrum retrospective, no one outside your team should make any decisions for you. Discuss everything and if there’s anything you’re questioning or not quite understanding, say it out loud. Otherwise, chances for making changes are equal 0.
6. Is there anything unexpected you got from a team member?
This doesn’t have to be anything big. Maybe one of your teammates made you coffee because you were super-busy or someone brought you chocolate because you had a bad day. Little things matter and they’re always worth mentioning.
7. Do you want to mention a situation that went unnoticed?
It happens more than often that during a sprint, people are occupied with their work and sometimes don’t even notice what’s going on around them. So, my advice is that if you notice someone doing something nice without anyone acknowledging it, say it out loud. Showing appreciation goes a long way.
8. Did you learn something new?
I think that each sprint or iteration teaches you something new. If there’s something cool you’ve learned and you want to share your knowledge — do it. It’s good to remind people that they are growing each day and that they’re always allowed to speak up.
Coming up with these questions wasn’t the easiest, but we did it together, as a team. We finally figured out a solution to our problems and it became clear who was a part of the team and who wasn’t. Of course these questions won’t last forever — we’ll probably gonna get sick of them in some time or they’ll just become otiose. But as a Scrum Master, it’s your duty to constantly think of new ideas and iterations, all with an end goal in mind — having a successful retrospective with a happy client and an even happier team.
But, just like in life, after a retrospective ends most of the time people focus on the bad things. That’s when you need to step in and redirect your team to a “happier path”. Otherwise, you won’t be making any progress. And the most important thing to mention — when you finish the sprint, go get a beer. Because nothing connects people as alcohol. Just kidding. Or am I?