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Jan 12

The Three Ingredients of Commitment

Have you attended or facilitated retrospectives that did not result in improvements? Are the same retrospective topics coming up again and again without changing anything? Do you feel you are the only one who is signing up for tasks? After reading this post, you will know about my experiences and insights. You will definitely not feel alone in it. You may even want to use my changed approach…

Stating that teams should be improving their way of working may come across like a no-brainer, especially in an agile context. However, teams that have fostered continuous improvement in their DNA are not as common as I wish for. An example of quotes from retrospectives, where people discuss actions to improve on a topic (anonimised):
– “I think we should do X less and spend more time doing Y”
– “We should do X better”
– “We should review each others Z and confront each other on the results”
– “In order to do X more, we need more effective Y’s. I think, from now on, we will really stick to the timebox of Y minutes”

One more example: I have been with teams that generated (new) working agreements sprint after sprint. It was very hard to come up with actionable tasks. When we talked about sticking to the (fresh set of extra) working agreements in the retrospective after that, we made a working agreement on top of those. We agreed to check on the working agreements in each stand-up, to make sure the retrospective aspirations have been followed. And in the first stand-up after that, we…… forgot about it.

Do you see the pattern?

This is what I see: People genuinely think about what could be changed. However: The outcome is often not actionable, it is at best to be labeled as vague-ish commandments or aspirational working agreements. As a facilitator, you could guide the discussions so the aspirations are rephrased into actionable tasks that people can own. I do so by saying: “OK. How can you do that?”. Sometimes people then look you straight in the eye and say: “Yes, we will really do this differently. We will!”. My reaction to that is something like: “Yes! And what could you do tomorrow in order to realize this?”

This sometimes helps along in coming up with tasks. However, sometimes: all that remains is a long silence….

I was struggling with this. And then I read Harrison Owen’s book on Open Space technology. And it hit me. Commitment is about three things, in my own phrasing: “People will choose (1) to commit if they have a passionate concern (2) about it and feel responsible (3) for it.” So, in other words: Volunteers (1) who have passion (2) and responsibility (3) for the topic will make change happen.

I wonder if this insight changes something in how I facilitate retrospectives. I guess I will only change it if I …… (you get it, right?)

Prepare to be surprised!

Want to know more or share your experience? Please let me know in the comments below or ping me on Twitter

Picture: Wikipedia – Cocktail

Regards,

Rob


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