Retrospective on Retrospectives

08/31/2019 by Alexandru Ilinca

One of my favorite frame of discussion regarding ceremonies is Retrospective. It has clear intention and powerful benefits. You have the opportunity to stop and take a look at where you are. Did we run in a good direction? Are we still on the right path? I love the fact that it can be a moment to look for solutions or to take out the champagne and celebrate.

On the other hand, everybody knows people are different. Also, everybody knows that there are extroverts and introverts. It is known that extroverts get their energy interacting with people, introverts relax and energize with themselves.

So how does a retrospective work when you have introverts in your team? Is it possible for them to survive? This blog is about how an introvert person survived extrovert demands of modern agile corporate world.

I can share my experience with the Agile way of working as an introvert. For me, it is very tiring to connect with people every day, day after day: at daily stand-ups, planning and reviewing your work. So for retrospectives it feels like "Just give me a break. Don't put me on the spot. Don't drag me in any drama."

It took a long, long time to understand that this is not something I can run away from. I just needed to find my self-expression.

At first, retrospectives were very cold. It was like robots were talking: "beep, boop, I can increase my productivity if my parameters are checked hourly, over". The thing with Agile is that everything is an organic and holistic approach to reaching high peaks of performance. That means you have to take into account all parts defining a human, even feelings.

Stages to emotional freedom:

1.      Suck it up

So how can you share feelings when you are surrounded people? You don't! Suck it up! You are not a baby. This is how you have to function (at least this is how you feel).

I was taking it all in and I was so tired. I tried at some point to talk with my manager about my feelings, but I didn't have the courage; I choked with my own words and "everything was ok". And I think it was OK for him because nobody likes drama and we were delivering quality workflows.

2.      Be present

Being present helps you connect with your environment. Be aware of your Agile environment because you can find all sorts of elements that can help you and this is something related to the three pillars of Scrum: Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation. Learn to enjoy the transparency, don’t fall in the notion of reporting to some authority. It’s better to appreciate the blue sky when there are no grey clouds.

It was a surprise one day when we heard we were getting an Agile Coach. It was a little bit weird because we didn't ask for any help and suddenly someone was coming in our "home", telling us stuff about the way we worked for 2 years and "we were doing just great".

The interesting thing is, when an outsider joins, he or she would feel the tension.

So the Agile Coach started to challenge our state of mind. It was crazy! I just started to cope with the way I was feeling at work and now somebody pokes us around. I felt some anger, something was unfair, but ultimately I was frightened by the reaction of my peers when they would hear what I wanted to say.

3.      Have courage and speak your mind

The day came when I lashed out and it felt so good. Releasing all those feelings was powerful. And I kind of did it like this for one year. I felt entitled to say "you have to do this better, you have to change, I was disappointed by your behavior, I expected you to help me more". These statements are valid, but what I want to point out is, after spending some time with Agile squads as an Agile Coach, sometimes it's tough to hear only criticism, passing the guilt all over the place.

This step is the crucial one for introverts. The tough thing is to open up and it's still tough for me to do this when I have an audience, but it's the sweetest thing because I am always proud of myself for trying.

 All I can say is don’t expect it to be perfect. Even after some practice. Even though people won’t listen or will judge the way you speak, you are the only one responsible for the way you feel. You will make mistakes, but you will survive and you will gain great insights about your state. I promise that. Nonetheless, I know it's best to put the cards on the table and set the right expectations.

4.      Have courage and go back to step 2

Step 2 is about being present and it's about listening. So after getting out your side of the story, it's time to listen to others. But don’t worry, it will come naturally, introverts have this skill.

I was saved by becoming an Agile Coach because I had to listen to my colleagues and I understood that criticizing others is the worst. The great thing is that introverts are great listeners and understand subtleties.

5.      Practice the compromise

I think it's very important to invest in conflict management training for your squads to reach great results. Take some time to understand you have to talk about how you felt in a specific moment, give space for your peers to tell their side of the story, find together the positive stuff and make a compromise if needed. It can be messy at the beginning, but with practice, you will get nice results.

As an introvert, you will be drained of energy, but it's like after a great workout: you are tired, but it's the good kind of tired.

6.      Fill the space with nice things

Also, don't forget to say nice things, give thanks and compliment your colleagues. This is the real Agile and this is why we love Agile. It brings out the best in people when you work on it. 

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