If you are waiting for a retrospective to make your point, then there's got to be something wrong. Teams need to create sufficient opportunities to highlight issues, discuss them and resolve them.
Opportunities for Continuous ImprovementAs a leader/ coach/ facilitator, its important to think about various forums in which teams can highlight and resolve problems at run time. Here are a few tools that I am quite fond of:
- Standups: Standup meetings are a great tool to not just convey status, but also to create placeholders to discuss issues. For example, when someone convey's status, its a great practice to call out your blockers and seek out help if you need it.
- Huddles: Remember the great Indian huddle? It almost became fashionable for Indian companies to get people to stand in a circle and thrash out an issue. I feel its a great way for a few people to get involved in solving a problem.
- Learning Wall: This is based on Esther Derby's Learning Matrix and I find it a great tool to highlight issues on a continuous basis. It can be a set of flipcharts in your team room, where people can continuously highlight what they like, they don't like, ideas for improvement and appreciations. Its best to have a ritual time and day to discuss the team's Learning Wall and to fix emergent issues
Problem Solving WorkshopsOne of the things we often tend to do in our team, is to just get a few people in a room, to solve specific problems. In my current team this tends to be as simple as booking some time with people, getting into a room and having a nice, passionate chat. I do understand that some teams will need a little more structure for these meetings. Here are a few tools I find useful for such meetings.
The Talking WallIn true ThoughtWorks “stickies” style, this is the ideal, safe, time-saving method for brainstorming, problem solving and leading discussions. This is quite similar to a brainstorm, except the brainstorm is silent. The group writes their thoughts on stickies - one thought per post-it. I like this because:
- It allows everyone to participate - even the really shy people.
- Encourages creative thinking , since no one has an opportunity to criticize ideas when people are brainstorming.
- It gives an overview/ big visible reference to everyone, so its easy to piggy back on others' ideas.
- It facilitates immediate clustering and categorizing, so you can easily notice the patterns in how people are thinking through the problem
What-if?What if is an exercise you can run with your team to imagine how things could be, if some constraints didn't really exist. I like playing What-if in two different ways.
GreenfieldWhat would we do if your group had no history, rules, regulations, culture or climate? If none of these things existed because you were just starting up, then how would you approach the problem?
I like using this when we feel hampered by culture, policies, habits or other restrictions. It just helps people rock back to a different situation, so that we can discover the real bottlenecks in the system.
Role ModelThe way I play Role Model, is by asking people to think of how someone they admire would solve the problem. I ask them to write their suggestions on stickies and put them up on the board. We then look through all the ideas, discuss the really crazy ones and find themes to resolve our issues.
MoSCowIts one thing to come up with action items and another thing to prioritize them. In decision making, sometimes a group becomes obsessed with democracy, allowing each suggestion to have equal weight and air time. This means that we create camels when we set out to invent a horse!
To prioritize our actions, I place three index cards on the table and label them "Must Have", "Should Have", "Could Have" (MoSCow), and sort all actions under each of these headings. Once we have priorities for all our actions, we know in which order we want to execute them.
Time BeamI like to use Time Beam as a follow up to MoSCow. Once you have prioritized actions, you need to know when you'll do them and in what order. I draw a diagonal line from the top right of a whiteboard (representing our target completion date) to the bottom left (todayʼs date). I then ask the team to lay out actions on this time-beam to represent a chronology of events. If possible, we put dates along each action and voila! We have a plan to work against!
So if you notice, there are various mechanisms you can establish in your team as a facilitator, to ensure that retrospectives aren't the only place where people solve problems. The mark of a successful team is the ability to have continuing dialogue. The mark of a successful facilitator/ coach is to to ensure that this dialogue actually happens. I hope this post gives you a few ideas on how you can help your team "continuously improve" outside of retrospectives as well!
What did you think about this post? I'm very passionate about supporting high performing teams and I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about this topic. Please feel free to comment liberally on this post as well!