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When Retrospectives Are Too Silent

19th Feb, 2024
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    When Retrospectives Are Too Silent

    As an Agile leader you really understand the value of continuous improvement, kaizen. So, you schedule regular retrospectives with your team. You constantly share with them the importance of saving some time to reflect on what can be improved, and they say that they agree with you, they understand that it is something vital for the growth of the team. 

    The team joins the meeting and there you are, leading the most important shared time with your people. And after whatever technique you use to break the ice, you start with the retro per se. But your team does not speak. They do not share their thoughts. It’s as if they were not there, as if their minds were somewhere else. You start feeling nervous, you worry about the situation and don’t understand what’s going on. 

    First, think of yourself...

    As the leader, you have to be an example when it comes to improving and self-introspection and retrospection. If you don’t demonstrate personal excellence, your team will not have an example to follow. Always remember… you have to lead by example!

    • Start with your individual retrospection and detect the actions that you’re taking as the leader that actually work with your team. To be more specific, focus on the retrospectives and how you are leading the team to think of their strengths and weaknesses. Are you bringing to the table examples of moments when your team performed at its highest level? Are you helping them find the reason for their high performance? During the retro, do you have at hand some examples of things that didn’t work (at least for this specific team, in a specific moment)?
    • Be humble and break the ice commenting on those things you know you have to improve for the good of your team. Remember that every team is different, and what has worked in the past with another team, does not necessarily have to work with your current one.

    Now, analyze other factors that may be causing this extreme silence and low participation

    Do the team members feel comfortable when speaking in the group?

    Again, start with yourself. Are you creating an environment of trust for your team? Everyone needs to know that they will be heard. To create trust within your team you must let them know that everything they say is important, that every idea, by small it is, adds value and that those small ideas can lead to bigger ones that benefit everyone. Reinforce their ideas, empower them. Give them the freedom to say whatever they are thinking, without minimizing or disregarding anything. Those ideas may be the starting point for an interesting brainstorming.

    Is the team focused on the meeting? Are they really “there”?

    People are used to handling several tasks at a time. We are used to multitasking and it has become part of our lives. Daily, we read emails while we attend meetings, we interrupt our activities to respond to our partners’ chats, we tackle several tasks together, to try to finish everything in time… And our days go by like this, constantly jumping from task to task.
    Why would it be different in our retrospectives? You know, for many people, retrospectives are just another meeting. So, why wouldn’t they read their emails, answer chats and create corporate desks while attending them?

    It is impossible to avoid people from doing other stuff while in the retro. It is almost part of our nature. But it’s up to you, the leader, to help the team prioritize what’s most important at every moment. And when it’s retrospective time, there is nothing more important than that. Reserving that time to think and improve, to find ways to do things better, is the most relevant task.

    Of course, there might be unforeseen circumstances that require our attention, but as a team, let’s try to keep them for later!

    Do your team members feel that the meeting is useless?

    If your retros are fabulous but no action comes out of it, and therefore no real improvement, the team may feel that these meetings have become useless. They may feel that they are spending time in a meeting that has no real outcome, no power to make the changes that are necessary to improve. So, why would they participate?

    Make sure that your retrospectives are having an impact. Make sure that as a team, you define concrete and measurable actions to improve. Assign owners to those actions and empower those owners to convert those action items into a reality.

    Lead the retrospectives to a powerful outcome and make your team believe in their improvement ideas since those ideas are the ones that will change your team for good.

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    Gisela Provenzano

    Blog Author

    Gisela is an IT consultant with over 10 years of experience as a Processes and Methodologies SME, Project Manager, Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Her forte includes Agile methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Pair Programming, and TDD for Data Science and Operations Research projects. Since 2013, she has been working for different accounts like Deloitte, Carnival, Teletech, BBVA, LAN, GAP, Pernod Ricard, K12, iSeatz and Westcon, wherein she was involved in project improvements, processes framework implementation, project management, consultancy and coaching.

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