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Running Effective Retrospective Meetings in the Workplace

There are all kinds of meetings in the modern workplace. According to an infographic from The Muse, meetings comprise approximately 15 percent of an average organization’s collective time. But not every meeting ends up being a productive use of time and resources. Unfortunately, leadership considers more than two-thirds failures. This may be due to a lack of employee engagement, lack of meeting structure or inability to turn discussion topics into useful actions.

Hearing this, it makes sense companies may be hesitant to add another meeting to the mix. But retrospective meetings have been gaining popularity as a response to changing work styles. Keep reading to learn more about running effective retrospective meetings in the workplace—and why it matters.

 The Value of Retrospective Meetings  

Many workplaces are adopting an “agile” workflow; meaning teams work in shorter “sprints” characterized by frequent short-term deliverables. At the end of each sprint, teams then hold a retrospective session to assess their experience. The goal here is “to discern whether the process is effective” through reflection, as Trello notes. At its best, this type of retrospection “leads to better work, and helps avoid some common pitfalls.”

Each successive sprint offers an opportunity for improvement based in part on employees’ observations about the preceding one. What worked? What didn’t? What can change in the future to improve communication, productivity, and satisfaction? Sprints enable teams to change their course mid-journey rather than waiting for the end of a long, ongoing project to improve processes. For example, consider the difference between hosting monthly retrospective sessions based on specific deliverables versus waiting until after an entire year-long project wraps up to discuss it. The former allows you to optimize the process as it’s happening; the latter fails to capitalize on employee insights to make improvements until well after the fact.

However, effective retrospection depends on facilitating an employee feedback process and putting the gathered data into action during the next sprint.

 Collecting Actionable Feedback 

The point of a retrospective meeting is to collect honest employee feedback regarding the previous sprint. This means organizations need to way to ensure everyone has a voice—and feels comfortable contributing, free from fear of retribution or ridicule.

An anonymous question-and-answer session works well for this reason because participants can use mobile devices to contribute responses. Furthermore, people can upvote the questions, comments, and critiques they share, letting leadership take the temperature of the group without having to ask for a show of hands. Since polling technology updates in real time, there’s no delay in using employee opinions to formulate an action plan for the upcoming sprint. It’s timely and transparent; two things meetings should undoubtedly be to achieve peak effectiveness.

In addition to collecting candid employee feedback, teams must develop meaningful metrics to measure performance. Retrospective meetings provide an opportune time for teams to review data-driven metrics from the previous sprint, taking note of areas in which, they are hitting goals and areas in which they must make an effort to improve. This exercise helps everyone get and stay on the same page, primarily because breaking down larger projects into sprints allows teams to track performance closely.

Effective retrospective meetings require a way to collect honest employee feedback and a way to make actionable improvements for future sprints. These sessions are a chance to air out the good, the bad and the ugly so teams can avoid making the same mistakes and instead replicate the aspects that are going right. Moving forward without looking backward is a recipe for wasting time and money, so consider building retrospection into your organizational workflow for added agility.