Why do a retrospective?

Many leaders and founders shy away from team discussions that have "bad vibes". I get it—as a leader, one of the most important things you can do is make sure people are happy. It can feel like you're working backwards by bringing up the awkward topic or harping on the past. The hard truth: the only way to lead you team through tough times is by talking about what's going on.

A few reasons your team might want to do a retrospective include:

  • You had a project or initiative that didn't go as planned or wasn't successful
  • You had a teammate or cofounder leave the team in way that left the team feeling unsettled
  • There's been a team conflict among members of the team that hasn't been resolved
  • Really any situation that feels uncomfortable and unresolved

As a leader, if you fail to address your team's concerns in these scenarios, it can break down the trust you've built and erode team culture.

Difficult conversations like a retrospective can feel scary. This post is meant to outline one way to approach them - through the 4 L's.

The 4 L's

The 4 L's represent Liked, Lacked, Longed for, and Learned. Here's how we define them at Candor:

  • Liked: what worked well in this particular situation? What did we like?
  • Lacked: what didn't work well? What were we missing? What wasn't hitting the mark?
  • Longed for: what else were we looking for? What could we have had to make this better? What were we hoping for that we didn't see?
  • Learned: what are we taking away from this experience? What learning will we take with us from this that will make us better? How can we do better next time we're in this situation?

An alternative format is proposed here by Atlassian.

I'd also recommend sharing the nonviolent communication framework with your team as context for this exercise. The TLDR on nonviolent communication is to focus on how a situation or behavior made you feel (vs. placing blame, accusing, focusing on other people).

How to run a retrospective

  1. Invite teammates to participate. I recommend casting a wide net (even if you think people won't be interested). By erring on the side of more transparent, you'll allow everyone to be collaborative members of this process and discourage any gossip / second hand accounts of how the retro went.
  2. Have teammates prep reflections ahead of time. I suggest sending the 4 L's to all teammates participating in the retro a day or two before the meeting. Have everyone write down their reflections and be prepared to share them with the group.
  3. Hold a sync meeting. Invite all teammates to a sync meeting on Zoom. To start the meeting, have everyone copy and paste their reflections into a shared document. Spend 5-10 mins reading each other's reflections.
  4. Offer space for discussion. See what comes up and be open to talking about the nitty gritty. Side stepping this part can be dangerous -- it's important to let people bring up what they want to bring up so that everyone can get closure around the situation.
  5. Focus on the learnings. I'd recommend ending the session by focusing on trends among teammates "Learned" sections. This can orient the group around moving forward as a team, stronger than before. It's important to emphasize that both giving feedback and receiving feedback effectively is an important output of this exercise.

Retros can be a vital part of a healthy, growing team culture. While all teams go through difficult situations, it's so important for leaders to allow the team to process those events through something like a retro.

If you have any questions about retros or how to work through difficult culture moments with your team, take a look at Candor or feel free to reach out to me directly at kelsey@joincandor.com.

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