Our retrospectives are complain-fests :( – How to turn blame and whining into action

How’s this for a retrospective problem: “Our retrospectives are huge complain-fests. All the team ever does is blame others and whine, whine, whine. Honestly, I don’t know what to do…”

It’s common for newly agile teams judging from how often I have heard descriptions like “The team eternally blames external parties. They never come up with any action items.” Well, why would they when it’s all somebody else’s fault anyway…

Blaming others is a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility and changing oneself. So how do you get a team out of this attitude? I describe several tactics in the ebook “Retromat – Run great agile retrospectives” and wanted to share them with you, too:

“What are you going to do about it?”

I start by stressing “you” a lot, as in “What are _you_ going to do about it?” Here are activities supporting this angle:

Solution focus

Surprisingly you can also try a very positive angle: Talking about what the team did well sometimes opens up a window to also talk about what didn’t work out, e.g. with Appreciative Inquiry.

In general, I’m a fan of the solution-focused approach, where you avoid analyzing the problem and look for things to try out instead. The following activities fit this approach:

Change perspective

A change of perspective can help the team to empathize with their scape goat and see things in a new light. It can also do wonders if the scape goat attends the retrospective and shares their view and reasoning.

Try:

If all else fails I try an intervention along the lines of “We can’t change other people. We can only change our own perspective and behavior.”

Have you ever tried one of these with a finger-pointing team? How did it turn out?

PS: Did you know there's a Retromat eBook with all activities from Retromat, plus tips and tricks? Check out the eBook