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How to Build Workplace Culture with Retrospectives in 9 Steps

In Company Culture — by Vinod Kumaar

agile retrospective The notion of workplace culture, especially startup culture , has been a hot topic for the past few years. There’s a lot of talk about what culture is and what it isn’t. Culture is the demonstration of shared values, like collaboration and curiosity. Culture is not perks or benefits like office arcade games or unlimited vacation.

Building workplace culture takes time. It’s the result of diligently practicing rituals that reflect the values of the company. At Recruiterbox, one of these rituals is running retrospectives. Retrospectives are a standard part of Agile software development. Tech editor Margaret Rouse ( @WhatIsDotCom ) says that retrospectives happen at the end of a development cycle.

“During the retrospective , the team reflects on what happened in the iteration and identifies actions for improvement going forward.”

You don’t have to be a software company to do retrospectives. Retrospectives help promote transparency, honesty and respect. If these words describe your company culture (or describe what you aspire to) you may want to give retrospectives a try–no matter your industry.

Here’s a simple plan to run retrospectives:

  1. Schedule a time to convene your team, and let the team know in advance the timeline on which you’ll look back. To avoid biased discussions, find a facilitator from outside the team to lead.

  2. Do an icebreaker at the start of the retrospective to lighten the atmosphere.

  3. Run an anonymous safety check to see if people don’t feel like they can speak up. One way to do this is to ask people to write a number from one to five on a piece of paper–five is the safest. The facilitator will cancel the meeting if there are any votes for less than three. Your team needs to feel comfortable being candid for the retrospective to work.

  4. Divide a whiteboard into two columns, one for what’s working well and the other for what’s not working, what’s puzzling and what requires change.

  5. Allow for about five minutes of reflection when a team member needs to talk about something.

  6. Go around the room and ask every team member to weigh in on each item on the board. If a point has already been made, the team member can add a +1 vote and expand on a different point if applicable. Repeat until you’ve collected everyone’s points.

  7. Once all points are down, briefly discuss everything that’s gone well and establish how people will follow them.

  8. Then discuss about the things that either need to change or stop altogether. Create an action item for each one, with an owner and delivery date.

  9. Finish the meeting with a round of acknowledgements. You want end the meeting on a positive note, where people have the opportunity to give and receive thanks.

Make sure that the facilitator keeps to identifying next steps and doesn’t veer into brainstorming solutions, or else objectivity may be compromised.

To keep team members engaged in the retrospective process, be rigorous about following up on action items and ensure the items are closed or a certain level of progress has been made before the next meeting. You can also maintain interest by mixing up the format of your retrospectives.

Retrospectives tend to work better in small teams; otherwise they can become long and unmanageable. But whether you’re working with teams of doctors, teams of educators or teams of salespeople, retrospectives can be an effective tool for building workplace culture across any profession.

Image courtesy Co Orpheum

About the author
Vinod Kumaar is part of Recruiterbox’s engineering team. He’s interested in improving workplace efficiency and in solving big problems through a series of small, simple steps.

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