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InfoQ Homepage News Effective Retrospectives Require Skilled Facilitators

Effective Retrospectives Require Skilled Facilitators

Retrospective facilitators can develop their facilitation skills by self-study and training, and by doing retrospectives. Better facilitation can lead to higher effectiveness of change and impact the progress of an organization.

Reiner Kühn spoke about agile retrospectives at Agile Testing Days 2022.

Kühn mentioned that everybody attending retrospectives should have a basic understanding of this. They should know about the structure of a typical retrospective, and for instance why it makes sense to imagine being a superhero or a time traveler. Attendees should also have an idea about the influence that they can have on changes, Kühn said.

The facilitators need to know a lot more about retrospectives, Kühn explained:

They should know about human factors in the retrospective, preparing, facilitating, dealing with critical situations, decision-making, clustering work results and sometimes, not joking, how to write on sticky notes.

Facilitators can develop their retrospective facilitation skills by reading books, blogs, and websites. Kühn suggested starting a community of retrospective facilitator practitioners to exchange, coach each other and visit or assist in other teams’ retrospectives:

I must not pray for improvement without self improvement.

Kühn is running a retrospective facilitator education program in his organization. It is a one-day basic training followed by four half-day sessions within one year. Between the sessions, program participants have to do retrospectives.

The basic training builds upon what participants already learned or experienced while doing retrospectives. We set a baseline for what retrospectives are, what a facilitator is and which behavior is needed. We learn how to prepare, facilitate and post-process retrospectives. We talk about the human side of retrospectives: personalities, group dynamics, conflicts, attacks, and communication. We also touch some aspects of change management and methods for decision-finding and making.

In the four half-day sessions, we always look back on the past retrospectives the participants facilitated. And we dig deeper into elements from the basic training and practice them.

In the last five years, they have trained more than 100 facilitators in the basic training, and over 30 passed the entire program. Kühn mentioned:

This requires time. But I have seen that skilled retrospective facilitators have a significant impact on the effectiveness of change and the progress of an organization.

InfoQ interviewed Reiner Kühn about doing agile retrospectives.

InfoQ: What makes it so important to do retrospectives?

Reiner Kühn: Today, a large part of our work is knowledge work. We need to collaborate and communicate to create our products or services. And we need to improve continuously to survive in a faster changing world. Retrospectives provide space for inspection and adaptation.

InfoQ: At what levels can we do retrospectives? How do retrospectives look at these different levels?

Kühn: Retrospectives at the team level are fine. But that is not enough for an organization to improve. We need them at hierarchical levels as well as wherever people work together: in projects, in communities, etc.

Doing retrospectives on the management level is more challenging. Often we have egomaniacs, power-driven people participating. They need to learn that this is a trustful and open space for improvement. And that retrospectives aim for change, but management aims for stability.

InfoQ: What can we learn from moderating retrospectives outside our own team?

Kühn: We learn diversity. Every team is different. As a facilitator, I need to adapt to different people, problems, and environments. I also can try out exercises my own team would not be fine with. And depending on the maturity of my and other teams, we can benefit from what was learned here or there.

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