Why you should share your Sprint Retrospective

I know, you’re probably thinking “whaaaaaat?!” am I right? Or at least this is the reaction I get from most people when I first introduce the idea of opening the retrospective to persons outside of the team and sharing the results. And I understand it too, believe me I would have had the same feeling a few years ago:

The retrospective is for the team, so that they can discuss things without restrictions, among themselves, with a feeling of safety

Well just to clarify things right away I completely agree with you. Indeed, the retrospective must be a moment of transparent introspection and sharing with the whole team where they feel confident enough to talk about anything. So why would you invite other people to this ceremony? I see a lot of interesting things that could happen here, but first let’s go back to basics.

Why do we do Retrospective?

To improve the way we work! Everyone knows that…

Of course, when the review should help to improve the product by getting as many feedback and help as we can from stakeholders, sharing our concerns with them regarding blocking points and making sure we are aligned on what to do next to optimize the value delivered, the retrospective is here to help us reflect on how we work as a team, what makes us efficient and what is not working regarding our interactions and processes (yes, we do have processes in agile 😉. So there it is, improvement, that’s the core idea of this ceremony (of agility in general actually) and you will find a lot of articles on the internet talking about why it is the most important in Scrum (I do agree on that point too in case you’re wondering).

The fact that only Scrum Team members participate helps to create a strong sense of belonging and safety. It is a team building activity, people feel free to say what they really think and they build this openness step by step with every iteration (or sprint if you prefer). All of this is true and important and if you are interested I recommend you read The five dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni to get further into details.

Ok now you might be wondering “well he just explained why it should be kept in the team, wasn’t he going to talk about the opposite?!…” and you’re right again, but as I said let’s go back to basics: what does the Scrum Guide tells us? Well, even though it only mentions the Scrum Team, there is no explicit restriction as to whom should attend this ceremony and if you should share the results or not, interesting isn’t it? You can do whatever you want!

Why keep it secret?

The real problem

I actually had this conversation several times ultimately and I get it, team members are not necessarily comfortable with the idea of opening to the rest of the organisation and there are a few reasons for that, the ones I get more often are:

Without context people will interpret things the wrong way

We don’t have control over what could be the consequences

Management will just use the information to judge and evaluate us

But here is my point, keeping the retrospective only for the team will not help, it’s just a workaround and won’t solve the situation as you are not tackling the real problem: the lack of trust in the organisation! The goal is to improve interactions and communication with other teams and the organisation as a whole and you need to start creating a culture of trust, sharing and transparency.

Indeed, you don’t know what will be the reaction of people outside the team but I do hope they will come and ask questions. Yes, they don’t necessarily have context and might misunderstand some details but you will hear comments, go talk to them and explain things.

About management

One of the most important one, from my point of view, is regarding management. Usually when you go a little further in the discussion most people are ok to invite persons or observers from other teams (I like to present the Safari concept to them — sorry, article from the link is in french), but when you start talking about management comes the red flag. In my carrier I was lucky enough to have great managers that were real mentors, they taught me a lot and I always felt like I could talk to them about anything (I’m a pretty transparent person by nature anyway). This trust is key, your manager job is to help you grow in your carrier, help you build self-confidence, improve your capacity to solve issues and create an environment where everyone is working efficiently and feels like they can take initiatives and be themselves. But in the end this is not only your manager job, it is the company job! If people don’t feel comfortable having management during a meeting then limiting access won’t help, you need to go deeper and look for the real problem: why aren’t they comfortable, what do they fear and what can you do help change this situation?

One thing though, you can’t force a team to accept anyone to their retrospective, that’s not the point obviously and you should always ask them first what they think and respect their decision. But once again, if you feel there is resistance, go find the root problem and look for solutions.

You are not alone!

I have to admit something, I’m very lucky 🙂 Most of the teams I have work with like to experiment and I rarely have difficulties to implement a new practice as long as I make sure to discuss it afterward and check if it helped or has to be adapted (isn’t that the basis of our work anyway?). I’ve seen (and still do) a lot of good things happen when we start sharing:

  • You’re not the only ones facing those problems: most of the time you’ll find out that the other teams have the same concerns and guess what? It’s reassuring and you can start working on those together, yaaaay
  • A direct consequence of the first point is that you might get solutions right away: “guys, we had the same issue and that’s what we did, worked great for us you should try”. Imagine that, wouldn’t it be awesome?
  • Talking about improvement, by sharing the results of your retrospective with everyone you will help others to avoid the problems you faced
  • Last but not least, after a while other teams around you will start doing the same and the snowball effect will do its work…

Don’t force the process

Like any transformation you need to get people onboard, not force it on them:

  • Discuss about the issue
  • Get the feeling/point of view of everyone
  • Ask if they have ideas on how to solve it and let them brainstorm
  • If needed explain your own idea and how it could help
  • Get feedback during the next retrospective and adapt if necessary

One last thing…

Communication should be the same at all levels of the organisation. The fact that teams start to open to others is great, but it is important that information from the top gets to everyone too: business objectives and ambitions, explanations on the company’s decisions, problems and challenges it is facing, competency, market position…When everyone in the company have the same level of information it is much easier to get involved, motivated and find solutions. It is not only the problem of the direction comity anymore, everyone is concerned as everyone is impacted by what will happen in the future.

I know “it sounds really great but it is a little bit of a utopia” and let’s be honest, it won’t happen everywhere, but as an agile coach I still think we should try to guide people in this big adventure toward Teal Organisations.

What about you? What are your thoughts on this matter? Have you tried to open the retrospective or do you keep it to the team? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

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Published by Olivier Rouhaud

I'm an Agile Coach, Scrum Master & manager convinced that human centered teams and organisations are the most interesting and efficient!

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