Entropy and improvement

I was thinking recently about good retrospectives. Pausing to reflect on how we work and how our ecosystem supports our work is a great way to get better at whatever we do.

On the other hand, frequent retrospectives are not always good retrospectives. Sometimes a team can fall into a rut and just skim through their retro as if they are ticking boxes.

Worse though, getting into a rut is not just a problem with retros. The same can happen with standups where people talk about what they are doing without mentioning impediments or actually listening to what others are saying.

When this is happening the ceremonies are not longer powering the team but rather encouraging the team to slowly fall into a state of entropy.

The team might not even notice the feeling of decay, but an outsider joining the team might notice it quickly.

So maybe it is a good idea to stop every now and then and actually ask what a new person would think of how the team is working.

If someone new were observing this meeting for the first time, what would they think? What advice might they give us?

A team taking a step back

A similar approach would be to adopt Amazon’s “day one” mindset. A simple way to try this (without overhauling your entire culture) is to ask

“If we started everything again from scratch and this was day 1 …. What would do from hear? How what would we focus on today and what would we do to prepare for tomorrow?”

An amazon in your team

So much for entropy though. In addition to teams falling into a rut, I have also seen teams too busy to pause and reflect on the wins they have. They launch a new feature or product and then realise there is a heap of work to do, so they jump into the next challenge. This can be a source of adrenalin but it can also cause teams to feel like they are always playing catchup when in fact they are scoring goals during the game.

So a question you can ask is:

If I took a step back and looked at my team from the outside, what would I say they were doing well? What would I say they should be proud of?

An even simpler question you can ask is:

If I was going to thank someone for doing something this week, who would I thank and what would I say to them?

Retrospectives, data and team meetings are meant to cause us to take a break, zoom out and appreciate what is going on around us. This boost in awareness (presence?) allows us to improve in our work and feel more connected to what we do.

Too often though, the meetings, the data and even the work can become routine, then almost mindless. So it is important every now and then to pause and be grateful, and also pause and reflect on what is no longer serving the team.

Maybe now is a good time to do a spring clean, or maybe it is just a good time to reflect on things to appreciate the wins and get out of any ruts that you get into.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.