How we do regular team reflection

A few years ago, wise friend Steve Barnett worked with us for several months on a big project. He pointed out that, as a team, we weren’t making any time for reflection. I was skeptical: we already had so much to do, the last thing I wanted was to take the team away from their work for hours for some awkward workshop. He suggested I just give him half an hour with the team, once a month. Fine.

Three years later, our monthly ’Flections, as Steve called them, have become an integral part of keeping our team happy and healthy. I honestly don’t know how we knew what we were doing before them. And, personally, I can attribute massive improvements in my personal well-being and productivity to these short monthly sessions.

Here’s what we do. We’ve experimented with variations on it over the years, and have found this works best for us. Over that time, we’ve been a team of four to six people. I imagine this would work with groups of up to ten or so before we’d need to make changes.

We meet for about 45 minutes around lunchtime on the first Friday of every month. Our process is built around three questions and a small task. Looking back on the previous month, we ask:

1. What went well?
2. What could I have done differently?
3. What did I learn?

And then we each set a SMART goal for ourselves, which is ideally designed to be habit-forming, and can be personal or professional.

A team member who is not ‘the boss’ guides the session – that helps avoid the impression that we’re reporting in on work. That person gives everyone five to ten minutes to write down their answers to the questions, and set a SMART goal, prompting us by stating each question in turn every few minutes. We each write in our regular notebooks (we all use some form of bullet journalling), because we each like to refer back to our previous month’s notes.

Then we go around – one go-around per question – each sharing some of what we’ve noted down. So, first we go around with everyone sharing what went well. Then we go around again, sharing what we could have done differently. And so on, till we share our SMART goals.

These go-arounds prompt great conversations that are often affirming and practical. It’s always explicitly optional whether and how much to share (since some of the answers may be deeply personal or private). We generally find that everyone shares something for each question, except for SMART goals, where every now and then someone will have a goal they don’t want to share, which is fine. Often in the go-around on SMART goals, we’ll also share how we did on last month’s goal.

Every time, I come away having learned something from my team, or having gained some insight into how they work, and how we work together. I’ve picked up great tips. And we’ve often discovered challenges we didn’t know we shared, and could help each other tackle. Most importantly, these conversations help us see each other for the smart, vulnerable, funny, thoughtful humans we are.

If you try something like this in your team, I’d love to know how it goes, and whether you discover improvements or effective variations.


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