6 Golden Rules For Engaging Team Members In Agile Retrospectives

Engage Team Members in Agile Retrospectives

Hands up if you’ve ever failed as a moderator in an Agile Retrospective! My guess is that you have!

Even if you do work your ass off on preparing a great Retrospective, the team remains bored, extremely unmotivated and there is only a low-level engagement what makes it impossible for you to make the Retrospective valuable.

BUT, What’s really going on here?

First … Don’t worry, that happens to almost all Coaches who moderate an Agile Retrospective! I experienced this as well.

So what if I told you that you can add a squad of tools to your toolbox that will eliminate a ton of time spent on terrible Retrospectives? In this Blog Post I want to share with you some Hard-Won Lessons about moderating a valuable Retrospective that will hit the mark!

The Importance of Agile Retrospectives

Retrospectives are the driving engine in every Agile Team. The more the team learns and grows on that, the faster they get and the more quality they can deliver. Another crucial point is that the team can inspect and adapt together on certain situations and variables that have changed since the last time.

If the team is new to Agile it’s quite strange for them to talk sincerely, secure and open about topics that are sensible. It’s even worse when the team runs agile for a while and still sees the Agile Retrospective as a disturbing and time consuming meeting that happens just because they think they have to follow the Scrum Guide. They see it more like following a protocol than realizing the benefit on it. These are just a few difficulties that many moderators have to tackle everyday.


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I want to help you to break out of this horrible and uncomfortable situation, but let’s start with the bad news first: There isn’t a magic technique or tool that will help you to break out of your bad situation instantly. More I want to expand your knowledge that will help you to see things from a different perspective.

Therefore I’ve collected some truly valuable advices from other Scrum Masters and Coaches whose retrospectives have reached an incredible level of efficiency. The following list includes some keys to unlock the power of Engagement in your Agile Retrospective!

Ready? Let’s start!

How to engage your team in Agile Retrospectives

A few changes to how a Coach runs an Agile Retrospective can make a huge impact. Here are just a few of my strategies for dealing with low level engagement. They’ve made a major difference in my Retrospectives over the years:

  1. Make it meaningful – If you want full engagement, it’s essential that team members perceive all activities as being meaningful. Research has shown us that if humans do not consider an Activity as meaningful they might not engage or may even disengage entirely. If you believe that your team doesn’t see any sense in your Agile Retrospective, it might be a good moment to point out the importance of that powerful artifact. You can run a special session where the team highlights the value of the activity. Instead of explaining, you just ask the right questions like “What is an agile Retrospective for you”, “Why do you think it’s important” and “How can we generate more value”. Take the answers of your team serious and try to visualize it and start using the outcome in your next Retrospective.

    Related: Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives

  2. Establish a positive Coach-Team Relationships – Another critical factor in determining low-level engagement is the Coach-Team Relationship, especially in the case of introvert people or long-time frustrated members who don’t see a sense in any activity in the company. High Quality Coaches can form close and caring relationships with every team member. Getting a clear profile of every single team member helps to meet the needs of every individual. Personal relationship can be increased by One-on-One Sessions, Positive attitudes or Avoiding promise-breaking.
  3. Impact – Seeing positive outcomes and results from your work – Simple math: Effort + Impact = Engagement.  I’ve worked in many companies and there were only a few who where able to create a healthy balance between high levels of effort and perceived impact. You can create a strong engaged workforce if they see real progress in their work and that they are making a difference. Without the ability to see the impact of their work, people will get frustrated and helpless.
    One of the first principles in the agile manifesto says: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software If your organization takes agile serious, then you should re-check if your product is truly making an impact in the market, or if your team is caught in an ugly political game. If this is the case, then you should fight against that and talk with someone who has power to drive a change quickly.

    Related: MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement

  4. Connection – The sense of belonging to something – Many teams were thrown together because of some change-activities in the company or the team setup just doesn’t work due to a bad hiring process where potential candidates didn’t pass through a team-fit. It might be worth to dig a little more into the teams’ past. Many Scrum Masters I’ve interviewed confirmed what I’ve seen as well: Cultures where there is no “We” – feeling, rather an “I” or “They” – Mindset, will lead to isolation and alienation.
    You can break this by helping the Team Members to develop a feeling of being part of an exclusive community of people who are engaged in something that’s bigger than any one person. This will create trust and therefore much more interesting Retrospectives.
  5. Autonomy – The good thing about Agile is that no matter which framework you use, Scrum or Kanban, teams should have a healthy autonomy in order to be creative and effective. Sure, autonomy isn’t about leaving people alone, at the same time, too much supervision destroys creativity and motivation.
    That’s were the Coach jumps in: He guarantees that the team has autonomy within the Framework. He identifies the teams’ needs and kills all problems and conflicts with his strong tool-set. As soon as the team feels that they have enough room for creativity they will flourish and thrive. Who knows, maybe that’s the reason why your Agile Retrospectives failed to hit the mark.
  6. Growth – Challenge people for their personal and professional progress – As soon as people feel that their work is routine and repetitive they will disengage. One of the greatest feature of the human brain is that it always wants to be challenged. That’s why people want to get stimulated with new experiences. As soon as their minds and skills are growing you will have a much higher engagement within the team. It’s the desire for mastering, accomplishment and reaching new goals that you need to tackle. This will trigger much more communication and outcome that will help you in your next Agile Retrospective. Yes, it is not easy to solve this issue. I recommend you to get a better picture of the situation by having relaxed chats with each member. This will bring you enough insights for your next step.

That’s it folks :-) So as soon as you’re ready to enter the arena the next time, arm yourself with these tipps and tools and fight the good fight! Don’t expect too much! It needs time and patience, but the rewards are tremendous!

Do you have more tips or tools that would help others? Do you disagree? Let’s make this post much more useful for all the other coaches and Scrum Masters out there! Don’t hesitate to drop you comment below!

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2 comments

  1. Hi Dominic, wie läufts?

    Mal wieder ein super blogpost – diesmal passiert aber nix, wenn ich die Sterne zur Bewertung anklicke.

    Grüsse aus Hamburg…
    Robert

  2. Pingback: 3 Incredibly Useful Coaching Tools You Wish You Knew Earlier

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