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Anyone who has been around an agile team for very long has heard of a retrospective. In case you are new to the game, a retrospective is a gathering of the team to reflect and find ways to improve. Retrospectives are a powerful tool to build close knit teams and find the areas we need to improve on. So we have retrospectives for teams, but what about for individuals?

The other day a member of my team had some feedback for my good friend and colleague, Craig. The team member mentioned to me, in passing, that he had noticed some behavior that Craig was presenting. I debated keeping quite about it, but I thought ultimately it was good for the team if Craig knew of the thoughts. I told Craig and the next thing he did was totally unexpected, but it made me smile. Craig asked me if I would preform a one person retrospective for him.

Wait…You want me to be your single person retro facilitator? I guess, but we both know we are going to need a better name for this than the single person retro.

Ok so the above is paraphrased, but ultimately we decided this should be called an Introspective. I like it.

So now I was stuck with a new dilemma. How do you facilitate an introspective? I have been facilitating team retrospectives for years. I know how to get people on the team talking and hashing out ways to improve, but how do you get a person to talk to himself?

The first thing I needed to do was to gather some intel from the person who made the original statement. Now I could have browsed my own thoughts in working with Craig and come up with some ideas, but I really thought the source should be heard. Craig agreed and I brought the source in on chat room and asked him some questions from Craig. This was nice, since it kept the talk between Craig and the other party anonymous. Phew, I dodged the bullet of only having to facilitate Craig talking to the voices in his head.

Second, the voices in Craig’s head. Now how the heck am I going to do this? As Craig and I talked I made some small talk about improving. We talked about the things we had seen in the past and how we thought this introspective might work. This may have even been where we decided to coin the term. As we continued talking, thoughts of retrospective games, and ultimate goals of retrospectives started coming to mind. Our purpose in a retrospective is to get to a change we can make, but that often deals with finding the root cause of an issue. Eureka! I could just go back to the original issue with some of why I learned in our small talk and ask him, “Why?”

There is one important thing to remember when playing the why game. Don’t just ask why. Asking why over and over can get frustrating. Take the things that come from the other person and rephrase what they are saying in a why question. The question may not even contain the word why.

“I am afraid the team will fail if we do that.” - Introspectee “What makes you believe the team will fail?” - Facilitator

The point is to find the root causes of the behavior and then let the introspectee figure out what they can do to change the behavior or at least the perception of their behavior (remember that no one is doing anything wrong).

Through many rounds of “why” questions we dug deep into what was going on inside of Craig’s head and how Craig could make a change that would strength his position and the team.

Our little experiment worked! Craig, the team, and even I are all getting a benefit out of the conversation. Facilitating helped me think about my own position on the team and how my individual behaviors can have a huge impact.

If I were to do this exercise again I would draw a map of the root causes and the questions that got there. I think the drawing would be useful as a tool to hang up for the person, Craig in this case, as a reminder of their own thoughts and where they are heading in the future.

Almost any retrospective game could be adapted to be used with one person. If you are looking for ideas then you might want to check out Getting Business Value out of Agile Retrospectives or Tasty Cupcakes. Remember that your role as a facilitator is even more crucial. The introspectee only has you and the voices in his head to converse.

If you would like to hear about Craig’s experience with the introspective, he wrote a post here.

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