Quiet Expression – Inclusive Retrospectives for Agile Teams
Power of quiet expression
I’ve been an agile coach and trainer for nearly ten years. One of my favorite parts of agile is the idea of continuous improvement and the value it brings to teams and individuals. Continuous improvement relies on the core principles of the empirical process involving transparency, inspection and adaptation. When people feel safe and are encouraged to be open and honest (transparent), only good things can come from a retrospective.
Retrospectives, and the overall notion of continuous improvement, are essential to growth and maturity. In my honest opinion, the retrospective and the 12th principle of the Agile Manifesto is the most important part of becoming agile and maturing. We can start by simply asking: what went well?, what didn’t go well? and what can be improved?
Variety is essential
After reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, I had a new perspective on personality types and how that might play out in teams. I realized and noticed that certain people respond differently to techniques and activities in retrospectives. The verbose people will freely express themselves, and the quiet people will stay… well.. quiet. This was something I always recognized, but I never thought too deeply on why that was the case.
My new revelation led me to make it a priority to always mix up my facilitation techniques in retrospectives. I experimented with different approaches in order to see which techniques worked on those who are more introverted and which worked better for extroverts. As a facilitator, it’s essential that you acknowledge that not all people communicate the same way. An essential tenet of the retrospective is that everyone involved should feel they are in a safe and comfortable space, so they can express themselves freely.
Some practical ideas
When first learning about retrospectives, many are introduced to the basic questions: 1.) What went well in the last two weeks?; 2.) What didn’t go well in the last two weeks?; and, 3.) What can we improve in the next 2 weeks? While those questions are fine and work sometimes, over the long haul they can be limiting. These three questions will get the same people to respond each and every time. When you are verbally asked these questions, those who are quiet, will likely stay quiet, and those who like to talk, will talk. After a while, the same answers will emerge, from the same people, and the retrospectives become outright boring.
When I coach teams, I encourage them to mix up the technique every time. Not only does it make things interesting, but it will invoke responses in different ways. When retrospective practices are changed frequently, we may discover that some techniques resonate better with quiet individuals.
Goggles with beautiful colors
I have about a dozen or so retrospective techniques that I enjoy doing and teaching people about. For me, each technique is like putting on goggles with different colored lenses and looking at our world. When I use one style of a retrospective, it’s as if I am putting on rose-colored lenses, and certain colors are filtered out from my perspective. When I put on blue lenses, or another retrospective technique, other tones are omitted and my world looks a little different. However, if I always wear the same color, the perspective of my world may never really change.
Varying the retrospective techniques is like changing the colors in your lenses, because it allows the team to look and address their continuous improvement from a variety of angles. When holding something beautiful in your hand, you may pick it up and turn it around in order to inspect all of its facets and angles. It is unlikely that you would look at it from only one angle and never examine it further. It’s unnatural. While looking inward at ourselves, as a team during a retrospective, we should change the lenses in our “goggles”, so we can see ourselves differently from time to time.
A bigger problem quietly lingers
My new understanding about personality types within teams lead me to change the way I approach retrospectives. Once I validated some of my assumptions about introverts and extroverts relating to retrospectives, I started thinking more broadly about agile transformation in relation to personality types. There may be a largely unrecognized issue with agile transformations, and it’s been quietly resisting the entire time. I talk more about this subject in The Quiet Resistance in Agile Transformations. Please share your thoughts.