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  • Writer's pictureChris Danek

Reflection: A Powerful Tool for Teams

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

by Chris Danek

How did your latest prototype test or user interview go? How about your latest software build? What could you do differently next time?

Regular reflection is a transformative practice. And when teams practice self-reflection, their collective powers can truly grow.

If your team is committed to continuous improvement, reflect as a team.

Reflection drives performance

Reflection is a valuable tool for teams because it drives real-time improvement.

When the team develops a habit of reflection, the team members will flag issues they’ve seen before. They’ll spot real-time opportunities for improvement and create immediate adjustments.

There has been a lot of research on peak performance and achieving a state of flow for individuals. Teams can learn to achieve flow and can improve their chances of getting into this high-performance state by practicing reflection.

One thing to know: self-awareness (or in this case, team-awareness) is a muscle that can be trained and strengthened through repeated practice. It is painfully true that if you don’t continue to condition this muscle, it will weaken and atrophy. Reflection drives performance, but only if the reflection muscle is strong.

Borrow a practice from Scrum

In scrum, a retrospective happens at the end of every sprint. One of the goals is to identify one or two simple ideas to improve team performance or the team environment in the next sprint. You don’t have to be a Scrum team to take advantage of this powerful practice.

Regular reflection helps all kinds of teams learn and improve their work.

The manufacturing team reflects on lessons after each prototype or pilot build.

The development team reflects after each milestone, or better yet, after micro milestones. They look for causes of failures or signs of risk after a verification test. They review significant stakeholder input on design concepts. After every significant activity, reflection is a healthy way to create value and reduce risk.

How to get started

You can add reflection to your team practices, whether you’re using scrum or not. Here’s how to get started with your team reflection practice.

Think about the dinner table, where reflections happen every night. I first learned about this at my brother’s family dinner table. Each person would say one good thing, one bad thing, and one thing they would change, as an entry point to a quick story about their day. Maybe you’ve seen this technique labeled as “rose and thorn.”

A pink rose, leaves, and stem with thorns, glistens with dew.
Photo by Paréj Richárd on Unsplash

This quick practice is well-suited for small teams, too. Carve out a few minutes to reflect as a group on:

  • What is working well?

  • What needs improvement?

  • What specific changes can you experiment with to improve team performance?

To make sure everyone understands the format, choose a leader to go first and illustrate how to answer each question. Then, make sure everyone on the team has a voice and is heard.

While it’s important for all team members to share their insights, sometimes it is also valuable to invite key stakeholders to listen and carry the feedback into their daily work. For example, the manufacturing team could include a leader from the ops team (like a production supervisor), and the operators or assemblers. But they could also include the manufacturing engineer and R&D engineer from the development team to participate in a listening mode. Be careful if external stakeholders are involved by making sure they understand the ground rules and foster a safe and trusted environment.

Reflection is a tried-and-true practice that can build speed, accuracy, creativity, and humility into any team’s culture. The way to strengthen the reflection muscle is to get started and train it regularly!

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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