Rethinking Retrospectives: Focus on the Team Culture over the Work Reflections

Anthony Coppedge
2 min readOct 4, 2023

While reflecting together is widely understood to be a helpful way to understand more than the progress made by a team or group, perhaps no single element of Agile has been as crucial as the Retrospective.

And while lots of variations on Retrospectives abound, the two ladies who came up with the heart of Retrospectives are Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. It’s why I value their opinion on Retrospectives the most.

From the book “Agile Retrospectives” that they wrote…

“When we say retrospective, here’s what we have in mind: a special meeting where the team gathers after completing an increment of work to inspect and adapt their methods and teamwork. Retrospectives enable whole-team learning, act as catalysts for change, and generate action. Retrospectives go beyond checklist project audits or perfunctory project closeouts. And, in contrast to traditional postmortems or project reviews, retrospectives focus not only on the development process but on the team and team issues. And team issues are as challenging as technical issues — if not more so.”

Did you catch that?

The last bit is the best part, where they highlight that retros go beyond the processes and focus on team issues.

The best teams with the best outcomes don’t all just magically get along. They have a shared and understood clarity of purpose, an alignment on what success looks like for the client, and an intentional culture of accountability, honor, respect, healthy conflict, and unity (which does not require complete agreement).

The best teams actively create, cultivate, and curate the communication, coordination, and collaboration for team trust via psychological safety, dependability, clarity with alignment, meaningful work, and impactful work outcomes.

Does that sound easy? It shouldn’t, because it’s genuinely challenging. It’s also completely worth it to retain great talent, sharpen existing talent, impact the organizational culture, and deliver consistently improved or new types of client value.

#Retrospective #Retrospectives #PsychologicalSafety #SuccessfulTeams #AgileTeams #TeamCulture #WorkCulture

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Anthony Coppedge

I lead the vision for how business agility is infused in Digital Sales at IBM. I relish the chance to sabotage mediocrity.