Organizational retrospective

Once an organization have existed for a longer period (6-12 months) it may prove valuable to stop and perform an organizational retrospective, i.e. take a holistic approach to the good and bad things occurring daily. As a manager, you may wonder if the teams are balanced correctly whereas a team member may wonder if others are facing the same issues as them.

To unveil good and bad things in the organization I have often used two practices in combination for organizational retrospective: team self-assessment and flow analysis.

Team assessment

A team assessment can be a great offset for getting insights into how a team or organization is performing. In addition, the assessment can be used to build up a baseline for setting objectives and defining key results.

The format of assessment depends on the level of trust in the organization. If the level of trust is low, I prefer people answering alone using online survey tools. If the level of trust is high, I prefer to gather people to do a joint discussion on the questions.

Choosing the right assessment is key to the results that you are trying to achieve. Below are a few that I have used and their applicability:

  • Scrum Checklist
    Henrik Kniberg has made a very good and elaborate checklist that can be used to assess the adoption of Scrum. This is beneficial in a transformation period to verify that Scrum is being implemented in the best way possible. If you want to give it a try, simply search for it on Google – it’s free.
  • Team Composition
    This book covers a “Great team” checklist that is method agnostic (find in the chapter “Team composition”). It focuses on the elements that are crucial for a team to go from storming into performing. This is beneficial if the method is subordinate and the team dynamics is king.
  • Self-constructed assessments
    If your goal is “in between” the two, you may choose to design your own assessments that address the actual issue that you want to focus on. This can be a combination of existing assessments or something brand new. The caveat here is that defining survey questions requires mastery and the outcome will depend heavily on the quality of the questions.

When executing the survey there are at least two important things to note:

  • Are you going to compare results a cross the organization? If so, make sure that you clearly define the scale that the answers relate to. If you use a Likert scale (1-5), make sure that each step in the scale is clearly defined so answers are comparable.
  • If not, make sure to schedule time for the team to discuss the questions and the answer. Note down any inputs that they have. If you use a Likert scale (1-5) a high score is typically good, and a low score is bad. This may not be the case when the team discusses; they may have chosen to act in a certain way which results in a low score, but, is a good thing.

Make sure to present the output of the assessment to the involved teams and tell them what the output is being used for. Also, make sure to repeat the same assessment in the same format to track improvements over time.

Flow analysis

The aim of a flow workshop is to illustrate the actual process of the team while identifying the roles involved, pinpointing impediments that are hindering the flow and positive factors that are assisting the flow.

To build up the flow diagram I use the following structure:

  • Describe flow
  • Identify roles involved
  • Brainstorm on impediments and positive factors

Describe flow

In the first step, we want to describe all the activities or steps that is needed from an idea emerges and until the customer can use the output. In order to describe the activities, we agree on two cases that we want to use. This is done using a variant of the Liberating Structure pattern called “1-2-4-all”:

  • Each participant spends 5 minutes to find two cases: one where everything went well and one with plenty of potential for improvements
  • Participants pair up and agree on two cases in a timebox of 5 minutes
  • Participants divide in groups of 4 and agree on two cases in a timebox of 5 minutes
  • Plenum discussion to agree on two shared cases to use going forward

Having two cases, we now move on to defining the activities. The team self-organizes into two group and spends 20 minutes on identifying the activities from an idea emerges until the customer can use the output. Each activity is placed on a timeline and written on yellow post-its. This results in two timelines, one for each case.

After the timebox of 20 minutes, each group presents their timeline and try to build a shared timeline:

  • Take the first activity from the first group
  • Place it on the joint timeline as the first activity
  • Verify that the other group does not have activities that precedes the first activity
  • If the other group have similar activities, they are bundled, and a common title is agreed
  • Repeat until done

This step is depending on a skilled facilitator as both groups will tend to refer to their own timeline as “the correct one”.

Identify roles involved

The hard part of the flow analysis is now over, and we move the focus and investigate the involved roles for each activity. This is a plenum exercise where the facilitator takes each task and ask, “what roles are involved in this activity?”. All input is noted down by the participants on blue post-its and placed under the activity in the timeline.

Brainstorm on impediments and positive factors

Having the roles and activities identified, we arrive at the most important part of the workshop: identifying impediments and positive factors.

Divide the team into groups of 2-3 persons. Let them brainstorm in their groups for 15 minutes noting down impediments on red post-its and positive factors on green post-its. The post-its are placed under the activity and roles in the timeline. Make sure that all groups circulate to brainstorm on all parts of the flow.

Combining the output

To conclude the flow analysis and assessments, it’s vital to look at the two dataset and decide:

  • What impediments do we want to fix?
  • Which positive factors do we want to enhance?
  • Use the results from the assessment to give input on what you want to fix or enhance
  • Decide which parts of the assessment can be used to measure progress
  • Set a measurable goal, e.g. “we believe that we can raise the team score from 3.2 to 4.0 by having the team co-located”
  • Decide how to follow-up

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