We held a massive retro and this is what we learnt

Holding team retrospectives helps us make sure we keep questioning the value in the things we’re working on and the ways we’re working. Retros give us a chance to reflect and learn.

At the Co-op, the Membership team is made up of 8 smaller teams with separate sets of objectives. Each small team holds regular retros and although they’re beneficial, we wanted to try a really big, joined up retro to see how that could help the wider group.

Photograph of a wall with hundreds of post it notes from the mega retro stuck on it. The big membership retro write up is written in red pen on the wall.

Six discussion points with long-lasting benefits

As a delivery manager, hosting retros falls under my remit. What I love about hosting them is that there’s no right or wrong way of doing them and I have the chance to experiment with different formats each time.

This time, after discussing them with other delivery managers, we chose these 6 giant retro topics:

1. Autonomy – how do you feel about the support, tools, skills you have and how trusted are you to get on with things?
2. Purpose – what’s your understanding of why you come to work and how your work contributes to the bigger picture?
3. Mastery – do you feel you have the opportunity to develop and use your skills?

These 3 ideas come from Daniel H. Pink’s book ‘Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us‘. Of course, we want our teams to feel motivated so talking about things that contribute to feeling that way is important.

We also spoke about:
4. Agility – how agile are we and how could we be better at working in this way?
5. Unity – how well do we work as a team, support our colleagues and feel able to ask for support?
6. Thoughtfulness – how well do we learn from mistakes and take alternative action?

All 6 of these topics are general enough that any digital team could use them in a retro.

The nitty gritty: how we did it

We split into groups of around 8 people – the average size for most of our individual team retros. We chopped our time into six, 20-minute rounds which felt like just enough to explore a topic but not enough time for people to lose interest.

Photograph of some of the membership team standing around a whiteboard talking about the thoughtfulness topic.

Outcomes: reality, aspirations and ideas

People had a lot to say. They had over 500 post it notes-worth of things to say in fact which is great: it means they felt the environment was safe enough to raise their issues. We grouped the post its into 22 themes and worked through each theme to figure out:

  • what our reality is now
  • how we’d like things to be
  • how we could make that change happen

We dot-voted on each theme to help us prioritise our actions.

The team came up with hundreds of ideas for how we can improve but one popped up again and again: dismantling and redistributing our central test team and giving crews more responsibilities for testing, quality and releasing. So that’s how we’re working now.

Try this at work

The general consensus for us was that holding a massive retro was useful. We found it’s worth keeping these points in mind though.

  1. Organisers will need to commit to a couple of days preparation and evaluation before and after the event.
  2. There’ll always be sceptics. Don’t let them stop you giving it a go. If it’s not valuable for your team, you don’t have to do it again.
  3. Be prepared to act on feedback quickly. If you don’t, there’s no point doing the retro.
  4. Don’t try and fix everything at once. Prioritise a couple of things and let the team know you’ll be addressing those things first.

If you’ve tried a retro on this kind of scale we’d be interested in finding out how it went and what effect it had on team morale. Let us know in the comments.

Rob Wadsworth
Delivery manager