How Shipt encourages participation and understanding during team retros
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How Shipt encourages participation and understanding during team retros

Shipt uses a simple voting table during their team and project retrospectives to achieve the purpose of all retros: understanding.
We’re all busy. And while we understand the value of reflection, sometimes jumping into that next project is easier than slowing down to see what went right and what didn’t. Retrospectives are the dedicated space to reflect for many teams, but they aren’t easy meetings to run. Discussions can be unproductive: some people don’t participate, the valuable points get lost in a sea of sticky notes, and the meeting can end without clear instructions on how to improve.

When I worked at Medium, I learned some of the principles of
—the framework that enabled Medium’s notably unique organizational structure. The takeaway I had from that very tactical style of meeting and organization is that it was great at encouraging participation and honesty through fair processes and procedures. At the end of every meeting, there is a list of key things for the team and individuals to act on. Even though it’s been years since I left Medium, I still use many of these approaches and I’ve incorporated them into the retros we run at Shipt.

Tactical style meetings are usually run in a room with a white board, with no phones and no laptops allowed. There are clear steps and procedures, and the whole team moves through them together. In a remote working world or even multi-office environment, the whiteboard wasn’t feasible, so we turned to Coda for a virtual alternative.


The problems: Trust, participation, and feedback

The retros I attended when I first joined Shipt were typical—participation was inconsistent, and those that did choose to participate sometimes hesitated to give constructive feedback. And it’s not entirely surprising. Despite the fact that retros are specifically improved by the attention, thoughts, and experiences of the entire team, they can also devolve into blame and finger-pointing. Facilitating these meetings successfully means fostering enough trust that everyone feels safe speaking their mind.

Implementing holacratic techniques helped create that supportive environment for Shipt retros, but our move to distributed teams added another layer to the challenge. Now we needed to establish trust
in a virtual setting.

When our meetings were forced away from the office whiteboard, we began searching for a tool to help facilitate our retros. And while we tried a host of solutions, none of them left us with that “Aha!” factor you’re supposed to walk away with from deep reflection.

The solution: Shipt’s retro doc

An ideal solution would let our team seamlessly collaborate. Without the distraction of the tool itself, we could turn the focus on establishing trust, encouraging participation, and discussing the feedback. We discovered exactly what we needed in Coda—and solidified our culture of understanding along the way.

Laying ground rules.

Think about the last few meetings you were in. How many people were actively participating, and how many others were multitasking? Most meetings have some type of expectation setting, like a regular cadence or an agenda.

Our
includes details about the process, including the purpose of the meeting and the schedule. We also include rules of engagement to frame the discussion we’re about to have. Because we set the expectation that everyone
must
participate, we’ve found that voices are equalized and we avoid a vocal minority.

Screen Shot 2021-01-20 at 10.19.58 AM.png

Having a clear process.

The rest of our template is split into
What went well
,
What needs improvement
, and
Action items
. After laying the ground rules, I introduce everyone to the retro process by asking them what went well. Topics are added to the table round robin (ideally everyone adds at least one unique line), we vote on which should be prioritized during the discussion, and we assign action items if needed. The positive affirmation of a job well done makes people happy—and it primes them for the hard part ahead.
Done
Date Added
Topic
Author
Vote
Add Action Item
1
1/27/21
Great designs
FM
AC
FM
AD
BD
Action Item
2
1/27/21
Organization and overall structure
LT
MJ
PR
Action Item
3
1/27/21
Backend testing was great
BD
MM
MJ
Action Item
4
1/27/21
Release process
AD
AD
Action Item
5
1/27/21
Workflow planning
LT
PR
Action Item
There are no rows in this table

Standardizing our process allows everyone walks away with a real sense that they’ve been heard and that their colleagues understand them. And perhaps more importantly, our process allows us to walk away with a plan of what needs to be done to make the team better in future.

Once action items have been assigned after the retro, you can use the
Slack the Assigned
button to automatically send a Slack message to the Assignee with the action item:
Task
Assigned
Send Slack
1
Need better tools for staging environment
BD
Slack the Assignee
2
Set up new cadence for communicating out tooling updates
AD
PR
MJ
Slack the Assignee
3
Do analysis of all tools
FM
Slack the Assignee
4
Build plan for testing in production
BD
MM
Slack the Assignee
5
Mobile app click path needs adjustment
PR
AC
Slack the Assignee
6
Keep staging and prod more in sync
AC
MM
Slack the Assignee
There are no rows in this table

Assuming you have integrated this doc with your Slack workspace, the people in the
Assigned
column will get a message like this:

Image 2021-02-15 at 9.22.18 PM.jpg

Ensuring transparency.

Moving our work to a digital environment has consequences; trust and transparency are harder to come by. Giving people access to our retro doc and allowing everyone to interact with the doc
during
the meeting makes it so that everyone feels safe. Without the expectation of judgement, people are more willing to speak up and understand that topics without any votes are still valuable to the discussion.

Try running your retro with this doc

Between receiving the pain felt by other tools and building trust through transparent facilitation, we’ve created a simple tool that works for us.
Copy this doc
to adapt our doc for your own team’s retros—then start improving your process and product.

Watch Dave walkthrough this template below:




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