Nothing’s Personal / It’s All Personal

One problem I have observed in Retrospectives, and one of the things that can keep a team (scrum/agile or otherwise) from really performing well, is the tendency to interrupt each other.

Sometimes, interruption is a sign of healthy enthusiasm. But sometimes it is not. It takes courage to let someone else finish their thoughts. You might be scared that they won’t let you finish yours. You might fear that your idea won’t be accepted if you don’t repeat it often enough. You might be afraid that someone else’s idea will be better than yours.

Stephen Covey’s fifth “habit” is “seek first to understand, then to be understood” and that definitely applies in Retrospective meetings.

But why did I title this post “Nothing’s Personal / It’s All Personal?”

Because it’s going to feel quite personal, to listen carefully to what someone says. Often things that are discussed in Retrospectives are coming from a place of feeling, of emotion, not simply burndown charts and story points.

But it’s also got to be treated like it’s NOT personal — just like the task cards we put on the table, once they’re out, they belong to the team to probe, question, build upon and even discard as the team sees fit. But still, the emotion-origin ideas at a Retrospective need to be treated as personal — one person said each of them, after all.

So it’s not personal, but it’s all personal. To put it another way, we need to balance thinking critically and objectively with being compassionate and appreciative. By listening carefully and personally, letting thoughts be finished–even if you’re jumping in to agree–you help make the transition from personal to not personal easier. And your team will grow stronger and more quickly.


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