Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Retrospective Trust Level

Retrospectives can be complicated meetings. Done correctly, they can provide immense value. Done poorly, they can be a show that provides negative value. A well run retrospective requires more than just going through the motions. Several things contribute to a successful retrospective; however, in my experience the key ingredient is trust.

I expect Fred George (all the way on the right, 2nd from the top) would probably agree with me. Fred is the only person I've ever met that would start each retrospective by asking everyone to write down, on a scale of 1 to 5, where their trust level is at.

A retrospective without trust is pretty worthless, so measuring trust at the beginning of the meeting definitely makes sense. If the trust level is ever below the acceptable level (assuming 5 is complete trust, anything below a 4 is potentially a problem) then the meeting doesn't proceed until a solution is found to the lack of trust.

Of course, if trust is low, you might not give a true trust level. This problem can fairly easily be addressed by having a retrospective facilitator that is in no way invested in the project. The facilitator can collect the trust measurements in an anonymous manner that protects the innocent team members.

If you're finding that your retrospectives aren't providing as much value as they should be, you might want to measure the trust level. You may find that people are afraid to talk about the bigger problems.


  1. How would you proceed if you were facilitating a retrospective and the trust level were below the acceptable one? How would you do it keeping the anonymity of the team members?

  2. Alexandre,
    Start removing people from the room in order of responsibility. Do another trust measurement after each person leaves. If you reach a point where the only remaining people are all at the same responsibility level, stop the meeting and have the facilitator meet with each remaining member individually.

    In practice I've never seen it reach the level below "remove the manager from the room"

    Cheers, Jay

  3. Anonymous11:39 AM

    Can you clarify what type of 'trust' you are measuring? Technical? Managerial? Trust of each other? Something else? Or is that irrelevant in your opinion? Can you provide a real example (albeit anonymize'd)? How many teams have you practiced this on and what did you observe?

    I have worked under managers that I didn't like on a personal level but whose technical ability I 'trusted.' Therefore, is there not a tendency for this kind of voting process to become centered around one of popularity more than anything else?

  4. @anonymous

    I'm talking about trust that allows you to provide honest feedback. Do you trust everyone in the room enough to say exactly what is on your mind.

    I've only seen it used on two different projects, but I liked it each time. It was valuable both times.

    Cheers, Jay

  5. Does the facilitator aggregate the data to an average and if below a certain point then action is taken? What if the trust level breakdown is with the person running the trust collection?

  6. Tim, the facilitator does average the numbers and take action based on the average.

    If the facilitator is the reason for low trust levels, someone made a pretty big mistake by asking the wrong person to facilitate.

    In general, I like my facilitators to be people outside the team with as little vested interest as possible.


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