How to Bolster Group Productivity (and Enjoyment!) Using Retrospectives 1

Business productivity coaches Laura Waite and Collin Lyons share a technique in today’s guest post:

"How to Bolster Group Productivity (and Enjoyment!) Using Retrospectives" A guest post by  Laura Waite and Collin Lyons

How to Bolster Group Productivity (and Enjoyment!) Using Retrospectives

by Laura Waite and Collin Lyons

If you’re working with a team, as a coach or as a member, you’ll know already that a well-oiled working group is wonderful to behold and even more enjoyable to be a part of. Fortunately, it’s easy to encourage because the exhilaration of seeing your team grow far outweighs the effort of making it happen. As a coach, there is an easy technique available to you to help your team do just that.

It’s called a Retrospective, and it’s about sharing feedback as a group. It’s a simple technique to help you find new opportunities to improve and to catapult your team to incredible levels of effectiveness, which is inspiring for everyone in the group. It only requires stepping away to pause, reflect and decide what actions to take in order to make improvements. Here’s how:

Reflect silently on the event or time period

Ask the group to take 3-5 minutes to look backwards and reflect on the event (e.g. a meeting, a workshop) or time period (e.g. the last two weeks or month) and in silence write down their answers to the following four questions:

  • What went well? In other words, what took place that we want to recognise and acknowledge as having gone well?
  • What didn’t go so well? What took place that didn’t go as we would have liked?
  • What did I learn? We want to think about what we’ve learned about how we worked together. It’s less about the content and more about the process.
  • What still puzzles me? This question allows us to capture things that happened that left us feeling unclear or puzzled.

(In case you’re interested, these questions are adapted from the daily temperature reading and other wonderful work of Virginia Satir, which continues to help so many people in different fields and walks of life to build and maintain healthy relationships.)

As you begin, remind everyone that:

  • They may not have answers for every question – and that’s okay!
  • They should only consider what happened and avoid identifying suggestions of what to do in the future… that’s for later.
  • They should be succinct in their answers so we can share them quickly and keep the energy levels up in the next step.

The silence part is the key here: it’s been shown that, when brainstorming (that is, coming up with various ideas for consideration as a group), it’s best to give individuals a chance to gather their thoughts before having an open-aired expression of ideas. Taking a moment to identify your own ideas in silence allows each individual to freely explore their own thoughts before being influenced by those of others. After all, as Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” It’s a simple adjustment, but one that vastly improves the quality of feedback available for consideration during your Retrospective.

Share with the group and consolidate the answers

Now we want the group to share their answers with everyone. One by one, go around the room and have each person share their answers. Some people like to focus on the first question before moving on to the next question. As people share their answers, capture them in a centrally visible location, such as a whiteboard or flipchart paper on the walls around the room. There’s no need to capture duplicates.

One of the key elements of a Retrospective is giving everyone on the team the opportunity to be heard – something that can assist greatly with team morale. Don’t lose that opportunity! Make sure that you write what the person actually said, not your interpretation of it. As an illustration, recently a team member said, “Product Management missed some of our key meetings, such as the FSCM discussions, and that meant we made decisions without the correct amount of input,” but what was written up on the board was “Product Management”. Quite a bit different – and very much open for interpretation. It’s a skill to write what is actually said that, thankfully, can be improved – so go easy on yourself if it feels difficult to do initially.

Select a few valuable areas to make improvements

Now that everyone can see all the answers provided, as a group, we want to identify a few high value items to work on – but only a few. Why? Because there’s only so much change we can take on at one time – 3-5 items is usually a good amount.

Identify actions that will lead to team improvement

Up until now, everything we’ve done has been about looking backwards. We’ve looked back over the specific event or time period and reflected on what happened. Now it’s time to look forward. What do we want to do differently next time in order to improve? For each of the items selected in the last step, the group should agree an action that can be taken to make an improvement. This action should be something within the control of the team. Request volunteers for a champion – it’s worth making clear that the champion isn’t necessarily the person who will do the action. Often they are simply the person who will be the conscience of the team to make sure the action is taken.

Why is it important to consciously separate the time you spend reflecting on the past from the time you spend thinking about changes for the future? As humans, we have a natural desire to think about how to make things better. The problem is, if we jump to the solution too quickly, we often find that we’ve come up with a great solution to an entirely different problem. This can be prevented by specifically separating the activity of reflecting on the past (by answering the 4 questions) from the activity of coming up with actions for improvement.

When trying to create an environment of continuous improvement, the most important thing to do is to keep everyone enthusiastic and optimistic that the change will, first of all, work and, second of all, stick. Your chances of achieving this are greatly increased if you tackle the most valuable areas of improvement – the ones that are causing the most pain, to the most people – so that when the change happens the positive benefits can be felt by as many team members as possible. They’ll get excited and happy to press on with further changes – it’s a win-win situation that will keep your team improving, now and in the future!

Delve a Bit Deeper into Retrospectives

If you’re interested in learning more about Retrospectives and some great insights into how to really get full value from there, have a look at our tips for using continuous improvement to bolster a group’s productivity – you can find out how to get full value from your Retrospectives, how to feel the power of celebration and how to hear every member of the team’s voice.

About the author

Laura Waite and Collin Lyons are the duo of business productivity coaches behind Flowmotion. For people in the office world who want to feel the buzz, Flowmotion is an enterprise that will awaken your passion for work. To address the all-too-typical experience of unenergetic working lives, our mission is to redesign how people interact with their environment to generate engaging, productive and collaborative atmospheres and organisations. We share several decades of experience providing organisational transformation and executive coaching and have worked with large and global organisations including: British Telecom, British Petroleum, Standard Life Assurance and Investments, British Gas/Centrica, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Allied Irish Bank and the UK Government. You can find us at

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