Retrospecting the Soul Crushing Iteration
Would you recognize it if they were?
Luckily for you, the retrospective is an ideal team setting to:
- Take a temperature reading and gauge morale.
- Have a conversation about motivational & demotivational events.
- Identify actions to take so that you can clone the bright spots.
We begin the exercise by drawing two columns on the board.
Column 1 is labeled Motivator
Column 2 is labeled Demotivator
I explain to the team that in the context of this exercise, I would like for them to think back through the iteration on events that either motivated or demotivated them with regards to how we work. I then ask that as we go around the room, I anticipate at least one example of each from every team member.
As each team member speaks about what motivated them during the iteration, I facilitate conversations to see if others agree or disagree before rushing to write it down on the board. While the example is important, the conversation about the example is even more important.
Examples of Motivators:
“Developing a feature that felt particularly valuable to the company”
“Business owners stopping by to illustrate real world successes of the product”
“Executive team speaking about developer role in the future of the company”
Once we’ve gone around the room a few times with motivators, we move onto the demotivators using the same facilitation style.
Examples of Demotivators:
“Stopping work mid-iteration because requirements changed”
“Taking design shortcuts due to time constraints”
“Receiving disproportionately negative feedback during product demo”
(Alternatively, you can also do this in the form of silent work, by having each team member write first instead of speaking. You would have their thoughts posted up onto the wall before initiating the conversations.)
Once you’ve cleared the air with where the team is mentally and emotionally, we move onto deciding what to do. I speak openly with the team about what steps they feel we can take to mitigate the demotivators and clone the motivators.
This is when I draw a 3rd column on the white board to record our next steps.
For example if the team gets jazzed up when their work delivers real value that can be measured by the organization, we’ll talk about how we can reproduce that experience. We may write in the 3rd column “Ask questions about real value of every story during planning meetings”. If this comes up in an iteration retrospective, it is rather easy to act upon this as our planning session may be occurring tomorrow or later that same day.
If the disproportionate negativity is dragging the team down and coming from an outside influence, we may write down “Have 1-on-1 with Mike”. The Agile Coach or ScrumMaster may sign up for that one.
At times we’ll find ourselves up against impediments or demotivators that cannot be removed.
For example, the CIO may insist on micromanaging team members even though it undermines self organization and empowerment. We may not be able to resolve that one, or at least not very quickly. In that case, much like Mary Poppendieck recommends, we attempt to be patient and focus on cloning the bright spots. Our action item may be “Buy a copy of Daniel Pink’s Drive for the CIO”.
Now with all of that said, I believe this particular retrospective technique is most effective when it isn’t overused. It is also important that the team is actually empowered to make some changes to the way they work. No team wants to sit around and rehash the same soul crushing events every two weeks without making any progress on them. Use this technique to check-in with your team from time to time, (every 2-3 months) while revisiting the actions you agreed upon. It will give your team some time to decide on whether the actions helped or hindered morale.
So if you are unsure on whether or not your team is demotivated, try this exercise in one of your retrospectives. You may find that it becomes a natural way to resolve dysfunction within your organization.
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