Agile best practice

6 min read

Unlocking the Potential of Teams with People-Centered Retrospectives

Tue Jun 20 2023
Chris Stone
Written by Chris Stone, Agile Coach at Virtually Agile

When I first began working as a Scrum Master, I quickly became focused on the world of metrics. I believed that for my teams to succeed, they needed to have a continuously improving velocity, a stable cumulative flow diagram, or a perfect burn-down chart.

Sound familiar?

The problem with these metrics is that they are efficiency, not value focused.

It doesn't matter if a team builds one hundred new features rapidly if none of those actually deliver value to the customer. Efficiency metrics also have a habit of being misused and misunderstood, and this can breed malcontent.

Rather than focusing heavily on the data in retrospectives, I aim to focus on the people. The Agile Manifesto after all is about enabling people and their interactions.

Each of us are beating hearts behind our devices

Making time for human interaction...has resulted in far better outcomes than any beautifully constructed burndown chart.

Through embracing a human-first approach, a team I once worked with learned that they as a group were avid gamers. They'd been working together for years but hadn't known. This team was under a lot of pressure to deliver to difficult timescales and retros had fallen by the wayside.

This was the first thing I focused on; getting them believing in retrospectives again. Taking a human-centred approach, I melted the ice with some unfettered time to talk about non-work stuff “What was your favourite childhood video game”.

Just a few minutes of idle chatter about Sonic, Legend of Zelda, and Mario kicked off a chain of events that started with a few of them arranging to game together that evening, and before long, we had weekly video game-themed zoom backgrounds and retrospectives always had a gaming twist. Think Dungeons & Dragons, Tetris, Pokémon & Among Us.

Another great sign that a team is on the right track is how much they laugh together. This team was noticeably happier as a consequence, the change was drastic, almost tangible.

We aren't just avatars on our screens, each of us are beating hearts behind our devices, with passions, likes, dislikes, and aspirations. Making time for human interaction and building retrospectives that focus on our human side, has resulted in far better outcomes than any beautifully constructed burndown chart.

Why embrace a People-Centred approach?

Let’s delve a little into why you should focus on the human side. What’s in it for you?

  • Increased Team Engagement and Participation: When retros are people-centered, team members will feel more connected to their colleagues, they’ll feel more comfortable actively participating, and have an increased sense of ownership of the team's successes and challenges.
  • Improved psychological safety: With a people-centric approach, you can more easily create a safe and inclusive environment for team members to share their thoughts and experiences openly, without fear of judgement. This can foster a sense of belonging and increase the overall morale of the team.
  • More enjoyment: We spend 8 of our waking hours working and half or more of our adult lives working. We owe it to ourselves to have a bit of fun in the process. A people-centric approach can result in people looking forwards to the next retro. More enjoyment, more engagement, and better outcomes. Simple.
  • Better profitability: Oh, and it’s also better for the bottom line. A study by Gallup found a clear link between engagement and profitability in companies. Why are highly engaged teams more profitable? Teams that rank in the top 20% for engagement experience a 41% decrease in absenteeism and a 59% decrease in turnover. Engaged employees come to work with enthusiasm, focus, and energy.

The perfect conditions for continuous improvement.

Looking to get started with a few people-focused retrospectives?

Try a few of these free templates;

Psychological Safety Retro

The Aristotle project led by Google, found that the presence of psychological safety was the biggest factor in high performance for teams. Use this format to build the foundations of psychological safety with your teams, baseline the current levels and develop actions to improve.

Healthy Minds Retro

You wouldn’t let your car go without a service, and I bet your phone battery rarely goes below 10%. Why don’t we place the same focus on looking after our own needs, individually or collectively? Use this retro to narrow in on improvements that improve your team's health.

Spotify Health Check Retro

Famed for the agile framework that was never intended as a framework, some coaches at Spotify also released a team health check format which is great for measuring and visualising progress as a team. The simplicity of this format and its ability to highlight areas of focus as well as progress over time is particularly powerful. The best bit? It’s the team's perspective, not any external maturity model or arbitrary metric.

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose Retro

Based upon the book ‘Drive’ by Dan Pink which highlighted the surprising things that motivate us, this retro helps teams to investigate the areas of their work which amplify or dampen our sense of autonomy, mastery & purpose. This book was a game changer for me and this retro could change the game for your teams.

5 Dysfunctions of a Team Retro

Another format based upon a highly acclaimed book, this retro builds upon the works of Patrick Lencioni and his 5 dysfunctions of a team. Using this retro, you can highlight the dysfunctional behaviours in your team and collectively solve those challenges together. One team, our problems, our solutions.

Let’s leave you with some things to think about

The key to unlocking the true potential of your teams lies in embracing a people-centered approach to retrospectives. By focusing on the human side of our teams, we can foster stronger connections, create a safe and inclusive environment, and ultimately drive better outcomes for both the team and the organization.

Remember, the Agile Manifesto is about enabling people and their interactions, and by placing people at the heart of our retrospectives, we can build stronger, happier, and more productive teams.

Forget about chasing the perfect metrics, and instead focus on building meaningful connections and fostering a culture of continuous improvement that is rooted in the human experience.

Retrospectives integrated with your work in Jira

Hoping to improve how your team is working together? Easy Agile TeamRhythm helps you turn insights into action, to improve how you’re working and make your next release better than the last.

About Chris

For ten years now, Chris Stone has been fostering an environment of success for high-performing teams and organizations through the use of agility. He has worked across a wide range of industries and with some of the largest organizations in the world, as well as with smaller, lean enterprises.

​As The Virtual Agile coach, Chris intends to enable frictionless innovation, regardless of location, and is a firm believer in enabling agility whilst working virtually. Find him online at Virtually Agile >>

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