(PM) Team retrospectives

Over the past year, I’ve experimented with retrospectives for the team of product managers that I lead. Here are some of my learnings as well as an account of a recent experiment: a retro for team wellbeing and mental health.

This is entirely applicable to other disciplines and jobs. I called this post ‘(PM) team retrospectives’, because I wanted to distinguish it from the retros a multidisciplinary team runs.

The goal

This retrospective is not exactly like the one for a product team who is working together towards an outcome. The product managers don’t work with each other. They will interact when there are dependencies, but they spend most of their time with their respective product teams. 

The PM team retro is there to: 

  • celebrate common drivers of happiness
  • identify common pain points and see whether we could address them together
  • develop empathy for your peers and offer support where applicable

It also helps the team lead (me) identify issues to address.

Here are a couple of things I learned 

Monthly is the most natural cadence:  We also tried quarterly and every 2 weeks. Monthly seems to give us enough to talk about, not be too repetitive while also not feeling like a rare occurrence. 

The format ‘mad, sad, glad’ works well: we tried ‘stop, start, continue’ as well as ‘happy, sad and idea’. For the latter I also tried to split it into different sections – your product team, the PM team and the department/the company. It became clear, however, that many items were things that were (at least partly) out of our control. The ‘mad, sad, glad’ format worked better because it is more about how people feel than about identifying steps towards continuous improvement.

Little bonus on the format: I use the Comedy Wildlife Photography awards for illustrations on our Miro board. Here’s mad, sad and glad.

A retrospective focused on individual wellbeing

This month, I sensed a general sense of ‘meh’ amongst the team. So I decided to run a different kind of session to talk more specifically about wellbeing, stress and mental health.

Looking for inspiration online, I came across @stephenmounsey post on team wellbeing retrospectives. There are several interesting formats. For my session, I borrowed the ‘self care grid’. I removed ‘spiritually’ as this seemed like a lot of boxes and I already thought that it might be difficult to distinguish emotionally from mentally.

Here’s the grid that we ended up using:

PhysicallyEmotionallyMentally
What currently energises me in my work?
What saps my energy in my work?
What would help to energise me more in my work?
What holds me back from doing what would energise me more?
Self-care grid adapted for a team retrospective

Each person had their own grid on our Miro board. That way you can reflect on your own experience and not be influenced (and intimidated) by what others may have written down.

Timing

  • 10 minutes to fill in the grid in silence/to calm music
  • 40 minutes to share what we had written (10 minutes each)

That day it was only half the team, so we were 4 people, and time-wise it worked very well. It didn’t feel rushed, it didn’t feel too long. I’m not sure whether it would have worked as well with the whole team.

Outcomes

This retro does several things:

  • builds empathy with your team mates
  • helps you be more kind to yourself, as you realise that everyone feels overwhelmed, stressed and low in energy sometimes
  • reflect on your own habits and identify things you can do to make you feel better

Other suggestions?

We’re still iterating the format and adapting to the context. I would love to hear about what other people are doing with the team they manage. Feel free to reach out here or on Twitter (@Ch_Foyer).

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