Introducing "retrospectives" for a new team that I'm working with:
I ask: What problems did you have since last time I had been here?
Result of discussion: 7 different problems listed on the board.
What actions would we take to make them disappear from now on?
They suggested 5 actions. I agree with all and suggest another 4. All of them were just small adjustments on process or behavior.
So far: 9 actions listed on the board.
- Good?- Good!
- Can you do it? - Sure. Easy! - Do you think we can check the effectiveness of these changes next month and discuss about new problems that will arrive until there? - Sure. - Do you think you can repeat this process every month even if I'm not here to lead? (silence) -> hmmm, understandable... change a habit is a different level of commitment! - Ok. Let's think this way: Try to establish a reality where you do this every month. How would be the work process 10 months from now? Better or much better? - Much better! - Nice! Now try to create a parallel dimension where you don't do this. We just work and work and work... no improvement process whatsoever. How would be the work process 10 months from now? The same, worse or much worse? - The same? - No! Much worse! - Why? - Feedback cycles. Systems, and work systems are not different from any regular system, are composed by feedback cycles. They are the way systems run themselves.
When you don't improve over time you are in a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. Problems increase the level of insatisfaction on team members. Displeased with how things are going, people care less about their work, which generates more problems, and by consequence, more insatisfaction. The cycle keeps reinforcing the level of insatisfaction and the work environment tends to get much worse.
When you improve over time you are in a self-correcting negative feedback loop. Actions to improve restore and control the level of insatisfaction. Good results motivate people to keep improving and to care more about the work. This is also called "pursuit of excellence".
Lesson: There is no stable work place. A work environment that doesn't improve, gets worst.