Retrospectives: My first time facilitating
Despite being part of numerous retrospectives over the past few years I don’t remember actually facilitating one until my current team’s last week.
I’ve gradually come to appreciate the skill involved in facilitating this type of meeting having originally been of the opinion that there wasn’t much to it.
I recently read Agile Retrospectives which has loads of different ideas for activities beyond just creating 'went well' and 'could improve' columns and then filling those in as a group.
In the best retrospective I’ve attended recently the facilitator had us work together in small groups while coming up with ideas to fill in on the retrospective starfish.
I really like the idea of working in small groups because I think it encourages more participation in the discussion of problems on the team.
My general observation is that a sizeable percentage of people are more comfortable taking part in discussions in smaller groups than with the whole team (~ 25 people).
We split into groups of 4 or 5 and then populated a time line of the project since the last iteration before going across the board and discussing the most prominent topics.
These were some of the main areas that I had thoughts about during and after facilitating this retro:
Perhaps somewhat ironically given the amount I’ve been hassling my team mates to keep meetings short this one over ran by about 25 - 30 minutes, taking around 90 minutes instead of 60.
I had a rough idea of how quickly we needed to move across the board in order to finish on time but it got thrown completely off track by one point which resulted in a much longer discussion than I had expected.
I tried to move across the rest of the items a bit more quickly to make up for that but it didn’t really work.
I’d be interested to hear what a more experienced facilitator would have done in this situation as I’m sure it’s very common.
I’ve written previously about the dangers of giving your opinion when facilitating a retrospective so I tried to make sure that I kept out of any discussions that happened and allowed others to talk.
On a couple of occasions I was asked to give my opinion on certain things so I had to step out of my facilitating role temporarily, join the discussion and then step back in.
I think this worked reasonably well but I can see how it would be difficult to keep quiet if you had really strong opinions on a topic being discussed!
Summarising the discussion
I see part of the role of the facilitator being to try and summarise what is being discussed so that it can be written up afterwards and distributed to the team.
I didn’t realise how difficult this is, especially if the discussion drifts slightly away from its original direction.
I found it quite tricky to follow what was going on at times but luckily one of my colleagues was able to help me out when I didn’t quite get it right.
Overall it was an interesting experience and I hope I’ll get another chance to try this role again soon although for now we’re trying to rotate it around the team to give everyone an opportunity to facilitate.
About the author
I'm currently working on real-time user-facing analytics with Apache Pinot at StarTree. I publish short 5 minute videos showing how to solve data problems on YouTube @LearnDataWithMark. I previously worked on graph analytics at Neo4j, where I also I co-authored the O'Reilly Graph Algorithms Book with Amy Hodler.