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When you collaborate with a group of people to transform your company, by definition, you are inventing stuff as you go along. There is no specific playbook you follow. Each day differs from the one before it. And it can get pretty frenetic. You often work alongside people who don’t know each other, you move quickly, you adapt as you go. Frequently it can feel like the scene in Wallace and Gromit in which the characters are laying down train tracks and running the train on them at the same time. You are so busy doing the new thing it can be tough to take time to consider how you are doing the new thing.

So, how can you work more efficiently and increase your chances of success? Simple answer: Hold a retrospective.

A simple tool for impressive results

My colleague, Dave Saabye, explained how he applies the practices he learned as an ambulance volunteer to improving the effectiveness of corporations. Below, I’ll provide some detail on how to capture lessons from collaboration.

A retrospective, or “retro” in agile lingo, is a simple meeting tool that, when applied consistently, increases the odds of your success.

Successful retrospectives are respected as meaningful “ceremonies” (another agile term) and thus should follow basic rules.

Be brief. Carve out 30 minutes to get everyone around a table (or on a group phone or video call). Your team can be two or 20 people, but true agile teams have fewer members. I have found that keeping a time limit is most effective because it focuses everyone to think clearly and you avoid excessive navel gazing that can descend into the analysis paralysis. The purpose of a retrospective is not to relive the entire collaboration moment by moment. The purpose is to capture specific things you learned together. (A side perk I’ve discovered is when people know they need to invest just 30 minutes, they are more likely to show up and be on time.)

Be clear. Share your screen to show everyone a document that is split into three sections:

  • What went well.
  • What could we do better next time. Be mindful of the clock: Don’t get stuck on what was so great or what was so terrible.
  • Make a list of to-do items. Each one should say what will be done and who will do it.

Be honest. Remind people there is no blame and total honesty is paramount, as nobody wins if someone holds back. Also, each project is different so you can learn something every time. Focus the comments on the work you did together.

At the end of the retrospective, file the document you just wrote where each person on the team can access it. Go through the same exercise at the next logical milestone of the project.

Real success

Keep at it. The real power comes only at that point when someone on the team is about to embark on a related piece of work and pulls out the document you created together. Once that person reads the list of things to do differently next time, he will be hooked. It could be a week or a year later—it depends on the nature of your collaboration. Whenever it does occur, you will have the benefit of building on what you’ve already learned.

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