3 Characteristics of Retrospectives to Reinforce Your Organization's Adaptability

Teodora Bozheva

Teodora Bozheva

Professional Services Director at Businessmap

Table of Contents:

In this world of constant changes, the only way to remain relevant is to learn to adapt.

That's alright. But how do we do that? How do we learn to adapt?

Adapting means changing the way we do things, our habits, our way of thinking. However, not all changes are worthwhile. We need to identify which parts we need to change and why.

Learning to adapt is about establishing the practice of reflecting and deciding what to do differently to achieve a goal or a specific outcome.

What do you do in your organization to reflect, learn, and decide which routines to change and how to achieve your goals more easily?

This is exactly the intention and purpose of a retrospective.

A retrospective is the meeting or feedback loop that helps teams to function smoothly and enables organizations to really dig deeper, understand and act upon the root causes of impediments that hinder their goals.

Companies that have adopted the practice of reflecting and making fact-based decisions use retrospectives to adjust their actions to the changes occurring in their business environments.

However, in many organizations, retrospectives tend to be underutilized. The reasons we usually hear include the following:

  • "It's a practice for Agile teams, but it has little impact on the decisions made at the company level."
  • "It seems like we always talk about the same things."
  • "We define actions but rarely achieve any significant results."
  • "It's just another meeting; we have enough follow-up meetings."

Generally, the purpose of a retrospective is to make the team reflect on how they do their work, discuss what went well in the last period, what didn't, and what they have learned from that experience.

What Are the 3 Essential but Overlooked Traits of Retrospectives?

The three characteristics of retrospectives that remain widely unknown and untapped include sharing the same goal among team members, using the retrospectives as a learning opportunity, and applying the lessons learned across the organization. Let's discuss these in more detail.

1. Focus on How to Improve Practices to Achieve a Shared Goal.

A team can be any group of people working together to achieve a common purpose. It can be an operational team, a middle management team, or even an executive team.

Middle management or executive teams review their project and initiative plans, analyze the problems they encounter, and take action to correct deviations.

However, they rarely focus on generating systematic learning and implementing it to adjust certain processes and behaviors in the organization to facilitate the achievement of the common goal.

2. Use Retrospectives as Learning Opportunities.

To learn and prevent the retrospective from becoming a venting session, it is necessary:

  • To have a shared purpose that the team is pursuing.
  • To define the expected results to be obtained through the actions before implementing them.
  • To characterize both the expected and actual results based on facts and data.

The comparison between the expected and actual results should raise questions about what challenged or facilitated the desired results, what caused unforeseen effects, or what practices prevented reacting more quickly. And from there, the learning process begins.

In other words, use scientific experiments to understand how the team and the organization work and identify the causes that need to be addressed to reach the purpose in a more flexible way. This habit sustains and reinforcesorganizational agility.

3. Share Lessons Learned Across the Organization.

The results of retrospectives should be known and used at all levels of the organization to improve the entire system's operations and change the mindset of leadership and all individuals. As a result, the organization becomes capable of swiftly adapting to market changes and business volatility.

The best manner to ensure that the lessons learned get applied is to integrate them appropriately in the policies for managing work.

The responsibility and leadership for this action lie with the management as the ultimate responsible party for achieving business objectives.

How to Integrate the Conclusions from Various Retrospectives?

How frequently have you consolidated the conclusions and proposals from retrospectives held by various departments to identify organization-wide actions? Did these proposals align with a common company goal? Were they grounded in a comprehensive understanding of processes and policies and supported by data? Furthermore, were the proposals centered around addressing customer needs while respecting the competencies of individuals within the organization?

Using a common retrospective notes format facilitates the process of conducting a retrospective and taking advantage of the learning outcomes.

To make your upcoming retrospectives more constructive and accelerate your learning and adaptability, here's a retrospective template that we use to track experiments. Feel free to adapt it to your needs and use it:

retrospective template

A retrospective template


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Teodora Bozheva

Teodora Bozheva

Professional Services Director at Businessmap

Teodora Bozheva is a well-known enterprise agility trainer and coach. She is co-author of the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM) and author of the “Complete Guide to Project, Program and Portfolio Management with Kanban”. Teodora has led successful transformations with KMM in companies such as BBVA-Spain, ULMA Handling Systems, and Linea Directa.