The Secret Weapon of Retrospectives – the Team Radar

You know that moment when you realise that something is not quite right in the team? Often you think you know straight away what needs improvement, but for some reason the team can’t see what you’re seeing. What’s wrong with them? It’s so obvious!

There’s nothing wrong with them. There’s a saying from the world of coaching that springs to mind here: “You can’t push the car you’re sitting in.” It’s the same principle – if, as a product manager, you spot patterns emerging before everyone else, it’s because you’re not really a part of the team. And that’s an advantage you should put to good use.

The way you broach contentious issues – so that the team takes feedback on board and doesn’t slip into defensive mode – depends on the team. If the team is a well-oiled machine and there’s a high level of trust, you can often just come out with it directly. But it’s good to stick to what you’ve observed rather than present them with solutions, because team members can usually come up with better and more workable solutions for themselves.

There’s also a great retrospective method for tackling teams that aren’t so receptive: the Team Radar.

How the Team Radar Works

The Team Radar consists of an “eight-legged spider” graphic with labels for each leg or axis, and a scale for each of these axes.

An image of a team radarThe axes should be labelled with the topics that the team needs to discuss in the retrospective. Let’s take “Feedback culture in the team” as an example. The team should give itself a mark on the scale for each respective topic.

It’s important to avoid a scale that has a median number. A scale of 1 to 10 is not ideal as teams will always tend towards a 5. I always use a scale of 7. That often leads to lots of discussion about whether to go for 3 or 4.

So the question for our example would be: How satisfied is the team with its feedback culture on a scale of 1-7 (where 7 would be very satisfied)? Of course, coming up with an answer will involve a brief discussion among the team.

Once you’ve covered all topics you connect up the dots and, like in any retrospective, you come up with action items for up to three areas with the lowest score.

Choosing Labels for Your Axes

I’ve found the following criteria to be valuable and worthwhile when choosing the eight  topics for the radar:

  • Start by formulating the one topic that the product manager had in mind when they noticed “things weren’t quite right” in the team. If, for instance, the product manager is irritated that some people in the team are late for meetings, the axis label could be “punctuality” or, to be a little more ambiguous and open, “meeting culture”. This way the topic is guaranteed to come up and you can gauge whether the topic is important to the team as well. It might be that everyone in the team has been bothered by it for some time but nobody wanted to bring it up. Or maybe the only person bothered by it is the product manager, in which case, the team will give itself a good mark no further action is needed.
  • I use agile values, principles, and practices to label the other axes. You can find them on the image below

It’s also important not to focus solely on problems when labelling the axes. Come up with three or four topics where the team can award itself good marks or acknowledge that it has made great progress.

A list of the values and principles from the Agile Manifesto

Preparing for the Team Radar Retrospective

  • Draw the Team Radar – a flip chart is a good choice here as you can take it with you after the retrospective and hang it up in the team workspace.
  • Bring Post-Its in four different colours and a pen. I’ve found it’s proven useful while the team is discussing the individual topics to differentiate between positive (green) and negative (pink) aspects, as well as general comments (blue). I use the fourth colour (yellow) to write the axis labels out again.
  • Think about how you want to introduce the Radar. Every retrospective needs to begin by “setting the stage”. I like to do the “How are you feeling today?” thing as an introduction. Here’s a poster to help you out: Feelings. And if you need more inspiration, you can always use the Retromat.
  • Make sure you allow enough time! This retrospective isn’t for people in a hurry: 8 axes = 120 minutes, 4 axes = 60 minutes.
  • Book a room with plenty of wall space. You’ll need somewhere to stick all the Post-Its!

Time for the Team Radar Itself

  1. As mentioned, start off with a “Setting the stage” task.
  2. Then you’ll need to take the team through the Radar:
    • Why did you choose the topics you did? Give them a little bit of context about your reasons.
    • Ask the team to agree on a rating for each topic. You shouldn’t spend more than 8-10 minutes on each axis. Depending on how experienced you are, you might find a TimeTimer useful here.
    • Decide who will write the Post-Its. One person or take it in turns? I often do this myself, as this frees up the team to discuss without any distractions.
  3. Off we go! Start with the first axis and work your way around, topic by topic.
  4. Once you’ve gone through every topic you can then connect the dots. Then it will become clear which topics have scored particularly badly.
  5. Find out the general tendency. Thumb voting is a quick way to do this. Ask the team to indicate if, for example, the topic “punctuality” is improving, or if they expect it to get worse.
  6. The aim now is to derive action items. Start with the topic that did the worst. If several topics have similarly bad scores then start with the one with the worst tendency. It’s usually not a good idea to discuss more than three topics. Don’t forget the names on the action items!
  7. Bring the retrospective to a close.

Keep the Following in Mind While Moderating

  • Of course, you should definitely keep an eye on the time. Omitting an axis completely is better than not having enough time to come up with action items.
  • Much more importantly though, you should keep yourself out of the discussion as much as possible. You’re the moderator. Of course, you’ve chosen this kind of retrospective to get the team to discuss certain specific issues. You already know what your opinion is – so it’s far more insightful to find out what the team thinks about them. Perhaps team members don’t see a problem where you suspect there is one. You’ll only find this out if you keep your lips sealed.
  • Interject if tendencies are too extreme. Some teams are extremely positive or, more often than not, extremely self-critical. If you notice one or the other, you may want to gently point this out to the team.
  • Is it obvious that this exercise is worth repeating? It is often a good idea to repeat the Radar in exactly the same form after a few months. This gives the team a good way to chart its progress.

What now?

Give it a go, I’d say! And please share your experience with other readers in the comments section. That would be fantastic!

First published in German here.

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