Using Agile Retrospective Boards to Run Online Meetings with your Team

running-an-agile retrospective

Regularly scheduled, mandatory meetings have the potential to wreak complete havoc on team efficacy and morale. They can come in many guises (a weekly staff meeting, a fortnightly team meeting or even a monthly status meeting).

More often than not –

  • you attend because you have to
  • the agenda is either exceptionally generic or non-existent
  • it could be replaced with an email

When meetings are online the situation can be exacerbated. A virtual meeting environment can allow participants with muted microphones and inactive screens the opportunity to multitask, disengage or simply wander off.

Does this sound all too familiar?

What you need is a way of making that regular meeting –

  • engaging and focussed
  • relevant and purposeful
  • productive and fun

What you need is an agile retrospective board.

What is Agile?

Agile is an iterative process underpinned by specific values and principles, and was originally proposed to support the delivery of software. 

It is a collaborative approach that sees a basic product built up incrementally into something more complex through a process of regular review and improvement (think along the lines of a cake that you improve every time you cook it).

Agile has become more widely applied, and is now often used to describe a project management style that is utilised by multiple industries. 

What is an Agile Retrospective Board?

Key to the agile process is a retrospective; a regularly occurring meeting during which “the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly”¹. 

All of the ideas generated in the meeting are captured on an agile retrospective board; the board itself can come in many forms – 

  • a wall or window with post-it notes
  • a whiteboard or flip chart page
  • an online collaboration tool

Typically, the board will utilize a format or follow a template designed to help elicit input from all team members. Whether a traditional board such as the agile retrospective or a more creative board such as the hot air balloon retrospective, all formats are designed to – 

  • give all team members the opportunity to speak up
  • support the review of recent experiences
  • inform decisions as to next steps
  • support the continuous improvement of both the product and team

Why Use an Agile Retrospective Board?

An agile retrospective board delivers value to a meeting in a variety of ways.

  • They offer a clear structure that supports a transparent meeting process 
  • They allow all participants to contribute equally, thereby encouraging engagement, fostering collaboration, and supporting equity
  • They provide focus and therefore bring purpose to a meeting
  • They facilitate the easy capture of ideas

When built with an online collaboration tool, retrospective boards are particularly beneficial; as well as delivering the above value, they can also – 

  • allow participants to contribute anonymously. Such a feature helps to side-step group-think, ensure all voices are heard at the same volume and supports a psychologically safe workspace
  • automatically capture ideas and comments inputted by participants, significantly streamlining the meeting documentation process
  • automatically generated reports that can be shared with all participants  
  • be used online with co-located, remote, and hybrid teams.

How do you Use an Agile Retrospective Board Online?

Typically, an online retrospective meeting sees video conferencing and online collaboration tools used to create a virtual space in which team members can – 

  • reflect and discuss their most recent experiences
  • prioritise on the key discussion points through independent dot voting
  • agree upon next steps and capture actions
agile-retro-board-online

The reflection is guided by the type of board or template that has been chosen. For example – 

in a  4Ls Retrospective, participants share – 

  • Liked: What happened that they really liked
  • Learned: What they learned
  • Lacked: What happened that could have been done better
  • Longed For: What they wish was happening

 

while in a Start Stop Continue Retrospective, participants consider – 

  • Start: the activities the team will be doing in the next cycle
  • Stop: the things that didn’t work and should cease
  • Continue: the things that worked in the previous cycle and need to be part of the team’s core activities

Retrospective meetings follow four main steps.

Step 1 – Set the Virtual Stage

  • Choose the tools you will be using to create your virtual meeting space and ensure everyone understands how to use them! A great way to do this is to consider a dry run; this will help participants check that the technology works, and connectivity bugs are fixed.
  • Build cadence by locking in a regular time slot in everyone’s schedule.
  • Draft some ‘house rules’ for the meeting itself to ensure everyone in the virtual room understands what is expected of them and what they can expect of others.
  • Choose a template that will support the needs of your team. The Start Stop Retrospective, for example, is perfect for a team with little time and are keen to get straight to the point.
  • Consider the psychological safety of the virtual space. Allowing participants to contribute anonymously helps to ensure personalities don’t influence the perception of ideas.
  • Share the template to counteract recency bias. Sending the template out before the meeting allows participants to add their input as and when they can.

Step 2 – Collect Data

  • Start the meeting with an icebreaker to get participants talking then offer an overview of the retrospective.
  • Give participants time to review the ideas already included on the board and add more.

Step 3 – Decide What to Do

  • Have participants group similar ideas together.
  • Vote on the ideas that would most benefit the project then discuss them as a group
  • Translate those ideas into actions to be delivered by the team

Step 4 – Close the Retrospective

  • Summarise the main areas covered in the meeting, and don’t forget to thank people for their time.
  • Share the summary of the meeting along with the actions to which everyone agreed
  • Follow up with the team to help them stay accountable and assist them in removing impediments

Retrospectives are considered a great way to support continuous improvement as they make it easier for teams to identify and duplicate their successes and learn from their failures.

In addition to their practical benefits, retrospectives also help build stronger teams. While retrospectives aren’t a team-building exercise per se, they do create supportive forums in which teams come together to learn and improve.

Start your Meeting Today

A real-time online collaboration and group decision making tool such as GroupMap is a great way to facilitate all manner of meetings, including retrospectives. Each participant is able to contribute equally in a psychologically safe space where their ideas and comments are instantly captured.

Have more questions or would like a demo?

Why Meeting Agendas are Important?

no-agenda-no-meeting

Your inbox is full to overflowing.

You only have the afternoon to meet not one, but two important deadlines.

You don’t have a second to spare.

Yet you are sitting in a room with twelve other people listening to two colleagues discuss an issue with a supplier you don’t know.

Why?

You’re in a bad meeting.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been there. We’ve all sat through seemingly purposeless, directionless meetings that just won’t end. They feel like a frustrating waste of time.

What you need is something that helps keep things relevant, focuses conversations, and maybe even determines if a meeting is even needed.

What you need is an agenda.

What is a Meeting Agenda?

An agenda is an incredibly valuable tool that provides a framework for a meeting.

In very broad terms, agendas typically include –

  • where and when a meeting will take place
  • who will attend
  • what will be covered and by whom

The great thing about them is that if used correctly, agendas can boost productivity and, most importantly, save time.

How Agendas Help Plan a Meeting

Compiling an agenda is like pulling together a shopping list so that you only seek out what’s included on the list and don’t waste time meandering down shopping aisles looking at things you don’t need.

Call for Agenda Items

Calling for agenda items means asking people if they have things they wish to have included in the meeting.

It’s a good way of ensuring participants don’t bring things up unexpectedly, so the time allocated to the meeting is appropriate. It also makes people feel valued and included in the meeting process itself.

Agenda items can include –

  • any completed actions that were to be undertaken as a result of the previous meeting
  • draft resolutions or decisions (with supporting detail) you hope the meeting to consider
  • documents you wish to share
  • a report or summary to offer an update
  • items participants are to bring to the meeting

As a general rule, the more people engage with this step, the more likely the meeting will be effective.

Drafting the Agenda

Drafting the agenda means putting all of the items that have been gathered into a logical order. That order is very much informed by the type of meeting that will be taking place.

Formal meetings such as those mandated by the governance of an organisation (board meetings, committees meetings, special task forces, working groups) are likely to have specific topics they are to cover, with discussions and decisions recorded in a particular way.

Collaborative meetings such as decision making meetings, problem solving meetings, team building meetings, and brainstorming meetings, will follow an order that supports its purpose.

In a very broad sense, agendas are usually set out in the following way –

  • The name of the group in attendance
  • The time, date and place of the meeting
  • The people attending the meeting (noting those who aren’t able to attend)
  • (if relevant) the notes or minutes of the previous meeting
  • (if relevant) the actions that were to be taken following the previous meeting
  • The items that are to be discussed
  • (if time permits) items that the agenda didn’t include
  • The time date and place for the next meeting

Ideally, each of the above should be aligned with an allocation of time; the total of those times adding up to the length of the meeting. This means that people understand how much time they have to present their item and can prepare accordingly. It also means that during the meeting itself, the facilitator can, without causing offence, ask presenters to wrap up if they are running overtime.

The agenda can also be used to ensure the right people are in the room at the right time. If someone with specific expertise is needed to support a particular item, they need not sit through the entire meeting waiting for that item to be addressed. Rather, that item can be addressed first and that expert can then leave the meeting or they can be allocated a time to join the meeting.

It’s at this stage, if there’s nothing of substance to cover, or if there is no progress to report, the decision can be made not to hold the meeting at all. Not only does this mean that participants can make plans to better use that allocated time, it is a demonstration of professional courtesy that will be remembered.

Circulating the Agenda

Circulating the agenda means sharing it with those who will be attending the meeting. Any information, reports or documents that were contributed when items were called for should also be shared.

This step has the potential to save an incredible amount of time during the meeting itself –

  • reports and documents can be read beforehand
  • resolutions have already been drafted
  • concerns or questions can be clarified in advance
  • errors or omissions can be identified and rectified

Circulating the agenda in advance will also ensure participants have a shared understanding as to what is to be covered during the meeting, and by whom. They have the opportunity to assess if the meeting is a priority and can even negotiate their absence if need be.

In short, people have been forewarned as to what to expect in the meeting, this will limit confusion and save time.

How Agendas Help Facilitate a Meeting

The meeting is when an agenda truly proves its value.

Using an agenda, a facilitator can help participants navigate through a meeting, ensuring everyone stays on track, starting on time and (importantly) ending on time.

The agenda effectively gives the facilitator permission to shut down conversations that are not on topic or that are running over time; ensuring that which is discussed during the meeting is focused and purposeful.

If important conversations become bogged down, they can be put on hold to be discussed at the end of the meeting (if there is time) or at a completely separate meeting.

If all of the items are covered sooner than expected, the meeting can end. Those who have other commitments can leave without causing offense, those who wish to stay can do so. People are highly appreciative of an efficiently run meeting.

How Agendas Help Document a Meeting

More often than not, notes of a meeting (sometimes called minutes) are to be recorded and kept. When a detailed agenda is prepared, not only has key information already been captured but a framework to structure meeting notes has been built.

Using the agenda as a guide, the person taking notes during a meeting (sometimes called a scribe or secretary), is attuned to the purpose of each item being discussed. They can therefore better focus on recording key points rather than being distracted by conversational minutia.

How Agendas Increase Productivity

Agendas increase productivity in three key ways –

  • they inform schedules
  • they timebox discussions
  • they focus conversations and effort

Agendas allow people to get organised. Participants can ensure their schedule aligns to that of the meeting, they can prepare for the topics that will be covered and safely ignore the rest.

Agendas minimize the impact of Parkinson’s Law; that is, work (or in the case of meetings, discussion) expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. At the same time, they ensure discussions are focused, and therefore more likely to deliver positive outcomes.

Finally, agendas facilitate the documentation and tracking of action items ensuring things aren’t accidentally forgotten or overlooked.

Start Planning your Agenda Today

An agenda is an easy way of bringing considerable value to your meetings.

If you are looking for a tool to help you compile your agenda and facilitate your meetings, GroupMap is here for you.

GroupMap is an online brainstorming, group decision-making, and meeting facilitation tool that dramatically improves the output of collaborative team activities.

Find out how GroupMap can help.

Have more questions or would like a demo?

5 Ways to Level Up your Meeting Facilitation Skills

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With meetings and workshops now commonplace, facilitation is considered a highly desirable  workplace skill; of course, it’s no surprise given the incredible difference a good facilitator can bring to such sessions.

Additionally, when one considers current employment trends, facilitation skills appear to be of even greater value; “empathy, judgement and leadership” being both in-demand skills, and core to the fabric of a good facilitator.

So whether you’re looking for a way to deliver greater value at work, or you’re keen to enhance your resume, honing your facilitation expertise is a great place to start.

At GroupMap, helping people think better together is what we’re all about. Here’s what we think makes a great facilitator along with some practical steps to help you get there.

What is a Facilitator?

A facilitator is a person who enables a group of people to work together more effectively so that they may deliver high-quality outcomes.

Those outcomes could be a range of things, including –

  • capturing and exploring ideas
  • making decisions
  • crafting a shared understanding
  • finding a solution to a problem
  • designing a product
  • achieving a consensus

What Makes a Great Facilitator?

A great facilitator sets the stage so that the group can perform together at their very best. The facilitator does this by supporting the two key elements of a collaborative session –

1. The Collaborative Process

The collaborative process is what happens during the session, as well as how, where and when it happens.

When building a process a facilitator considers –

  • the outcome required of the session and the date by which it is needed
  • who needs to be involved
  • what needs to happen at the beginning, middle and end of the session to deliver that outcome
  • how time should be allocated
  • if the session is to be in-person, online or both
  • when the session is to be held in order to deliver the outcomes when they are needed

2. The Collaborative Environment

A collaborative environment is one conducive to participation, cooperation and focus, and as a result, high-quality outcomes are delivered faster. They are psychologically safe spaces in which participants feel acknowledged, accepted and respected.  

In shaping a collaborative environment, a facilitator will demonstrate –

  • Respect: by recognising and acknowledging the intrinsic value of each participant in the session
  • Empathy: by putting aside their own context in order to be open to embrace a genuine understanding of that of the participant
  • Neutrality: by putting aside any bias, prejudice or agenda, so that only the inputs of the group shape the outcomes of the session

The facilitator will foster open channels of communication, ensuring –

  • input is honest
  • participation is balanced
  • conflict is respectfully addressed

A great facilitator remembers that, despite the fact all eyes may be upon them, they are not the star of the show; the stars are the participants, and it’s their time to shine.

What You Can do to Become a Better Facilitator

1. Get Organised

Whether you’re delivering an hour-long meeting, a half-day workshop, or week-long training, you need some sort of overview or agenda that outlines –

  • the purpose of the session
  • who is participating
  • when and where the session will happen
  • the steps that constitute the session
  • a timeframe

If you find yourself pulled in to deliver a session that isn’t supported with an outline, take the time to construct one with the group there and then. A quick brainstorm will ensure the purpose of the session is clear and the group is focussed; the smooth delivery of the session will make up for the time you spend with this initial gathering of thoughts.

  • send out calendar invitations along with the session overview well in advance.
  • lock in the resources you need to deliver the session

2. Open Those Channels of Communication

  • Kick off with an icebreaker to warm the group up; icebreakers are known to increase group engagement and focus.
  • Take the time to work with the group to establish the ‘house rules’ for the session. When members of a group know what they can expect of others and what is expected of them, the likelihood of participation increases while an environment of psychological safety is supported.
  • Don’t do all the talking; you are the conductor not the orchestra.
  • Deliver information in easily digestible steps; too much information will be overwhelming.
  • Allow for silence and thinking time. It allows individuals to consider their responses before sharing them.
  • Listen and paraphrase what is said to ensure you have understood things correctly.
  • Look to the body language of participants for additional cues.
  • Draw out and make space for reticent or quieter participants to contribute, and stack conversations to support balanced participation.

3. Keep an Eye on the Time

  • Allocate a time to each of the session steps, and stick to it!
  • Ensure participants are aware of the timeframes within which they are working.
  • Call out and wrap up circular conversations.
  • Park discussion if consensus can’t be reached and circle back if time allows.

4. Maintain the Focus

  • Use the number of inputs generated by the group as an indicator of their engagement; positively reinforce effort, it will inspire more participation and reinforce focus.
  • Check in regularly to assess energy levels; when energy wanes so does focus.
  • Listen out for chatter; it is a helpful barometer that can point to –
    • The completion of a task – so move the session on to the next step
    • Disengaged and distracted groups – so remind participants of the session’s purpose
  • If a participant seems off-topic, explore if their opinions support the purpose of the meeting.

5. Embrace a Facilitator’s Mindset

  • Be curious. Use questions and phrases such as –
    • What did you mean when you said…
    • Tell me more about…
    • What would that look like?
  • Adopt the mantra “it’s not about me”. Despite our very best of efforts, possibly only the most self-actualized of people are able to consistently exude respect, empathy and neutrality; this is a work-around until you get there.

Start Facilitating Today

GroupMap is an online collaboration tool designed by facilitators for facilitators. It helps you construct and deliver a polished collaboration process, and includes features that support the curation of a collaborative environment too.

GroupMap can be used to support face-to-face, virtual and hybrid sessions. It captures data as you go; there’s no tedious note transposing at the end of your workshop because GroupMap does it all for you!

Have more questions or would like a demo?