Here’s another gnarly retrospective problems:
“Our retrospectives are huge complain-fests. All the team ever does is blame others and whine, whine, whine. Honestly, I don’t know what to do…”
This seems to be a common situation in newly agile teams judging from how often I have heard descriptions like that: The team eternally blames external parties. Naturally, they never come up with any action items. Why would they when it’s all somebody else’s fault anyway…
Blaming others is a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility and changing oneself. So how do you get a team out of this attitude? I describe several tactics in the ebook “Retromat – Run great agile retrospectives” and wanted to share them with you, too:
“What are you going to do about it?”
I start by stressing “you” a lot, as in “What are _you_ going to do about it?”
Here are activities supporting this angle:
Surprisingly you can also try a very positive angle: Talking about what the team did well sometimes opens up a window to also talk about what didn’t work out, e.g. with an Appreciative Inquiry.
In general, I’m a fan of the solution-focused approach, where you avoid analyzing the problem and look for things to try out instead. These activities fit this approach:
- Appreciative Goal
- Positive & True
- Appreciation Postcards
- Remember the Future
- Wish granted
- Shower of Appreciation
- My Team is Awesome
A change of perspective can help the team to empathize with their scape goat and see things in a new light. It can also do wonders if the scape goat attends the retrospective and shares their view and reasoning.
If all else fails I try an intervention along the lines of “We can’t change other people. We can only change our own perspective and behavior.”
Have you ever tried one of these with a finger-pointing team? How did it turn out?