Free new mini book: Asking for a Better Future

For years and years I’ve been meaning to get a proper coaching education. Last year I finally took the plunge and this year I finished the year-long programme “Lösungsfokussiertes Coachen und Beraten“. It’s been amazing and I’m so glad I picked it! Solution-focus is definitely my jam 🙂

It’s helpful as a mindset in just about any situation and retrospectives are no exception. If you’re looking for something that will help make your retrospectives more energising and achieve better results, say no more, that’s what I wrote my final thesis on:

Cover “Asking for a Better Future”

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Hello Polish Retromat!

A heartfelt “Witam!” to the Polish version of Retromat that launched on May 6th 2022 for Retromat’s 10 year anniversary \o/

Huge thanks go to Jarosław Łojko for translating 30 activities so far.


PS: There is a Japanese version in the works. So more language goodness to look forward to 😀

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

The Retromat Forum is live – Join :)

tl;dr The Retromat Forum is live – Connect with fellow facilitators

It’s high time to support a community around Retromat that is independent of me!

For example, because there are a lot of cool activities that never make it into Retromat – for various reasons (such as being tied to a specific time of year). But these activities would still be valuable to a lot of fellow facilitators. And in the Retromat Forum these can still be widely shared!

Another reason is that y’all are amazing people! The overwhelming majority of Retromat users I talk to are lovely and insightful and more of you should get to meet each other! (Only if you want to, of course!)

When I thought about which platform to build, I landed on forums. I’m probably showing my age here… It’s just that as far as asynchronous exchanges go, forums have always worked for me. The old phpbb forums, Reddit (arguably a kind of forum). My hope is that I’m not alone with that and forums work for you, too!

Screenshot of the Retromat Forum

You surely know why communities hum or fall silent: They rise and fall with the people and discussions in them. I’ve met enough of you to know that you are interesting people with all sorts of tricks up your sleeves so I’d love for you to join! Get an account and share that activity! Or ask that question 🙂

Welcome to Multipartiality!

For the longest time I thought it was my job as a facilitator to be neutral and impartial. I wasn’t sure I was “doing it right”, when I strengthened one party in a conflict by paraphrasing and helping them be understood, when they were at the disadvantage and I wanted the parties to have equal footing to work things out.

It wasn’t until the workshop with solution-focused coaches Veronika Jungwirth and Ralph Miarka that I learned a new word: Multipartiality (“Allparteilichkeit“).

It means to be able to understand and empathize with each party as needed, to help them phrase and explain their needs.

You expect neutrality from a judge. But mediators and (depending on the situation) facilitators will be more effective with a mindset of multipartiality.

Nowadays, I do not in facilitate meetings in which I know I won’t be able to be multipartial.

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Enjoy the Silence

Many people are uncomfortable with silence. As a facilitator, it is important to become friends with silence and not feel compelled to fill awkward pauses.

I’ve learned that lesson a while back: Holding the silence used to be hard for me. I like to talk. I’m a chatty person. Shutting up is difficult for me. Letting silence be. Enduring it. It helped me to count from 10 to 20 in my head and to start over when I had reached 20.

If you look at people with attention and fully expecting them to continue talking, they will talk again. Even if, technically they have already said something about the issue. And that is when the magic happens!

Very interesting things happen when you don’t fill an awkward silence with chatter. You’ll hear things that others don’t readily come forward with. These are often newer or more controversial thoughts – Not surface level, not something they will readily share with anyone. Finding out about these deeper or more cautious thoughts is super valuable. You can work on concerns and keep issues from festering.

It’s magical. Enjoy the silence! Make it work for you 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Assuming Positive Intent

It all started with a tweet by Tobias Mayer:

“Don’t make assumptions” says one school of wisdom, “Assume positive intent” says another. I choose the first. You?

I’m a card bearing member of the second tribe (at least I thought I was) so I answered:

The second one. Makes me kinder.

Going into difficult conversations assuming positive intent has rarely left me disappointed.

Or as Gitte Klitgaard so beautifully put it:

I find that I get what I expect. So if I expect good, I get good.

My experience is exactly the same. Whenever I don’t manage to assume positive intent and give in to blaming thoughts it leads to more disappointment. My beliefs always always leak into what I say and how I say it.

That’s why I ask someone else to facilitate / mediate in my place when I cannot honestly assume positive intent for each party.

The “don’t assume anything” school of thought has never helped me to prep angry people for constructive conversations. When someone thinks others to be malicious, countering their theories by saying “You don’t know that. Don’t just assume that” only helps for about 2 seconds:

They rake a hand through their hair and say “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t know that for sure.” Pause for effect. “But I swear, they’re just doing that to fuck with us!” Aaaand, back to Square One.

What did help multiple times is giving a couple of scenarios in which the enraging behaviour is a result of good helpful intentions of the other party and doesn’t manifest their evil and / or stupid nature.

Giving examples of how something might have had positive intent opens the door to really talk. I’ve established a possible alternate reality 🙂

What’s really going on is something we can try to find out during the facilitated conversation.

After I laid out these thoughts, Tobias remarked:

Talking “of how this might have had positive intent” is very different to making the assumption, isn’t it?

Huh? Hm, I guess that’s true. Apparently I fall inbetween the two schools of thought and my mindset when preparing to facilitate is:

I assume that positive intent is possible (while not actually assuming any particular motive)

And I can come up with at least two positive intent scenarios for any given situation.

Learned something about myself there. It’s a mindset that has served me well so far. What’s your mindset for facilitating tense conversations?

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

What’s a good action item?

9 points that make follow-through more likely

tl;dr Small, concrete, team has control over it, clear first step, responsible person, follow-up date, success criteria; there are only a few AIs, visualize


Retrospectives are only meaningful if they result in change. Sometimes this change is sparked just by everyone reaching a better understanding of everyone else’s perspective. More often we reach change through experiments, i. e. by trying something new for a set period of time. Obviously, you would like your experiments to improve things, but they won’t always. You have to try out many things to find the ones that are an improvement and discard the rest.

Experiments come in two flavors:

  • Action Items (AIs) – concrete todos; usually one-time-tasks
Examples: “Invite the devops team to our refinement meeting”
  • Rule changes – how the team handles their interactions, routines, rituals or events; usually on-going and repeating
Examples:
    • “everybody will answer these 3 questions in the daily standup”,
    • “we will groom upcoming stories every Wed 3pm”,
    • “we will prepare the product demo the day before the review”

I’m sloppy and use “action items” to mean both types – yes, also in this post. My recommendations apply to both types.

Okay, so we’re in a retrospective and try to come up with good experiments to try out. But what is a “good” action item?

For me, a good action item is something that has a high chance of actually being implemented by the team. You don’t get brownie points for coming up with ten AIs. You get points for those two AIs that you actually carry out and observe the results of.

Great. And what exactly increases the chances of follow-through for an AI? Glad you’re asking!

Small

Aim for small experiments. Go for the smallest change that could possibly make a difference. Small changes are easier to agree on. They have a higher chance of actually being implemented, because they are not such a big effort. If an experiment works: Great! If it doesn’t you haven’t invested much and can try something else. Rinse and repeat for continuous improvement.

Continue reading “What’s a good action item?”

Raise your hand to speak

For somebody who spends as much time as I do on thinking about what we do at sipgate and why it works, I missed a tiny, big detail for a really long time: Our meetings work much better than at most other places because we raise our hands when we want to speak. And we talk in the order of hands being raised.

I once had plans for a book on how teams facilitate can better their own meetings. And it never occured to me to include raising your hand in the book. I had thought about talking sticks and keeping a visible list for big groups, but not about “queueing” to speak.

After all, isn’t that just how it works in school? Yes and no. Yes, you raise your hand to speak. No, not everybody gets to speak and you are not responsible yourself to figure out the order of speaking. The teacher calls on people to speak.

But if you think about it, not interrupting each other and letting other speak first is the basis for all the other things that work well in our meetings. AFAIR, Richard Sheridan calls stuff like that “kindergarten skills” in his book “Joy, Inc.”. These kindergarten skills, i.e. playing nice with others is the first thing they check for in potential hires.

I only realized this how important the hand raising thing is, because I recently was in a meeting with someone who didn’t wait their turn. It was sooo irritating. It ruined the flow and also made it more likely for others to display bad meeting manners: Interrupting others becomes more frequent because everybody is anxious to get their thoughts out.

Even now that I’m writing it down, I feel like it’s too basic, too obvious to be mentioned. I mean: “You want nicer, fairer meetings, in which people are not talking over each other? Gee, have you tried taking turns by raising your hand to get the word when it’s your turn?” Duh.

But then again, I rarely see the hand raising in other environments and meeting flow is worse for it. So, I’ll be happy to state the obvious, if it helps some team, somewhere.

You’re meetings are going smoothly without hand raising? Great! Maybe it’s because you’ve got a facilitator? Facilitators can often guess who wants to speak, based on body language. And give the floor to that person either explicitly or also using subtle body language. I often give somebody the floor, by raising my open palm towards them or just looking at them with my head cocked.

But facilitators are not mind readers so even then the hand raising bit helps. And when there’s no facilitator it helps a lot! If they know who wants to speak, the more confident team members can give the floor to shyer ones, who wouldn’t just talk over someone else to be heard.

So, yeah, queue to speak and get more orderly meetings with a fairer distribution of “air time”. Peace Out 🙂

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook Bundle? Ready-made retrospective plans for beginners and all activities from Retromat for experienced facilitators. Check out the Retromat books

Responsive Retromat

Big news: As of March 2021, Retromat.org is responsive and adapts to all screen sizes. We’re a teeny tiny little bit late to the party, but better than never 🥳 🥳 🥳

This is the biggest change since Timon Fiddike rewrote the backend in 2016. It’s been on my ToDo-list for forever. At least 5 years. I mean, mobile devices are not exactly new 😉

Now, I finally, finally get to close this tab in my head and Retromat is much more accessible! In the end, the rewrite was both easier and harder than expected: It was easier because Past-Corinna was pretty smart about decoupling the Java Script logic from the layout. Plus, Flexbox is cool and my SO helped me with grid (CSS). It was also harder because there were many small things I hadn’t thought of. And one big one: Thank you Timon, for setting up a test server!

The Retro Mates’ support gave me the energy to finally tackle this. Shout out to them! And may we all bask in the glorious feeling of finishing something big-ish 🙂

PS: If you want to help make Retromat more awesome, why not become a Retro Mate?