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April 26, 2012

For the Sake of a Productive Retrospective

Even good, competent, and valued people sometimes have an off day, make an ill-advised or selfish choice, or are just plain mindless.1

Like many others, I'm not quite satisfied with the Retrospective Prime Directive as it's written. I understand and appreciate Dinwiddie's explanation of it, but as a useful tool, the directive doesn't strike any chords for me. What I think the directive is trying to say is:

Retrospectives are not about blame. They are about moving forward.

So why not just say that? I'm fond of Tobias' take on it (with another phrase2 inserted):

We are emotional and vulnerable beings, subject to a continuous flow of influences from a myriad of sources. Sometimes we perform magnificently, other times we mess up. Mostly we are somewhere between these extremes. In this last period of work everyone did what they did, and likely had reasons for doing so.
     Bearing in mind that there are many factors of which I am unaware.2
Accept what is. And now, what can we learn from our past actions and thinking that will inform and guide our future ones?

Whenever I'm working with a team that is still struggling to create a safe environment, I also suggest "quietly considering" this:

I will ensure that we have a safe environment
in which we can each own up to our own mistakes own our own
and endeavor to not be defensive if someone else points out my mistakes.
If someone gets defensive, we'll assume that the environment is not safe
rather than assume a personality flaw.

1. Stone, Patton, Heen, Fisher, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Penguin, 2010, page 287.

2. Wallace C. Ellerbroek, MD, “Language, Thought, & Disease”, The CoEvolution Quarterly, No. 17, Spring 1978, page 33.