Introspective

Today I was informed that I’ve been impeding progress on our team.
This was somewhat shocking, since I feel like I’m always pushing
forward to make our team and myself better.

Like most anyone, my initial reaction to criticism was defensiveness.
I don’t handle criticism well. (You might find that hard to believe,
after reading the rest of this post. Maybe it’s just the confrontation
part I don’t handle well.) Thankfully the blow was softened somewhat,
because the person providing the criticism didn’t tell me directly —
they told Amos, a trusted colleague of mine. Amos then passed it on to
me. I’m grateful for that — this is the best way for me to have received
that criticism.

What I did next is the astonishing thing. I swallowed my pride for a
minute. Not an easy thing for me to do, for all the usual reasons, and
more. I decided to address the problem head on. If someone was telling
someone else that I was causing some sort of a problem, then even that
perception was a problem that I needed to address. So I decided to hold
a retrospective for myself. Retrospectives are the way Agile teams address
problems and improve how they work. If it would work for a team, I figured
it should work for an individual.

I’d held retrospectives by myself before. Before I even knew about
retrospectives, I’d taken some time to assess how I had done things
on a couple of projects I had worked on as an independent contractor. But
those were about technical decisions I had made and processes I had
followed. This one would be different. This one was about a personal
shortcoming, an action of mine that had caused some harm. This one
involved feelings and emotions.

So I asked Amos to facilitate my one-person retro. We’d both done a lot
of retrospectives, but neither one of us had done anything like this before.
We had a bit of trouble getting started. We didn’t have any details
about why the anonymous person felt the way he felt. So it was hard
to address something that nebulous. So I asked Amos if he could follow
up with the person. Luckily, the person was online and able to respond
in real time.

So we talked things through some. We went on some tangents. We made some
progress — things that I could write down as take-aways and action items.
We got off-topic again, and then came back to it. Then Amos decided to
play The Why Game. This worked amazingly well. It helped me to find the
root reasons why I was holding back change. Basically I’m afraid of
failure. Going deeper, we looked into why I’m afraid of failure. This
line of inquiry was particularly effective. Hopefully it’ll be enough for
me to stop being an impediment to change. Here are my notes / take-aways:

  • Be careful playing devil’s advocate in public.
    • People will think I’m taking that stance.
  • Don’t always take the boss’s side in public.
  • Don’t be the person to allow the team to take the easy path.
  • Why do I think that managers won’t let us try a 2nd time?
  • Why do I think we might fail the first time?
    • I want to put us in a better position to succeed.
  • I’m being too conservative.
  • Be willing to fail. Don’t fail to try.
  • Don’t say we shouldn’t try because I think other people don’t want to try.
    • That is just self-perpetuating.
  • I’m afraid of failing because I haven’t done it much.
    • Because I’m good at learning from other people’s failures.
    • But this is holding me back and making me cautious.
      • Despite the fact that I try to not be cautious.
    • So I need to work to counter-act those fears.

At first, I thought that I’d never heard of anyone doing anything like
this. But then I recalled that I’d heard about somewhere that everyone
does this, with their whole team. That would be hard. I’d have to
trust everyone in the room.

But I would recommend this for anyone that can pull it off. It’s hard,
but it has a large payoff. Just like a team retrospective, it feels good
making this kind of breakthrough, and knowing that just spending that
little amount of time has made me a better person. (Mine took about an hour.)
I think the hardest part is finding someone (or a group of people) you
trust to be your facilitator.

I’ve decided to call this thing an introspective. A retrospective is
about looking back. This is about looking inward. I’d be interested to
find out who is doing this kind of thing. Does it have a commonly accepted
name? How does it work? What techniques work best? If you’ve got any answers or ideas, please comment below, or tweet me @CraigBuchek.

So thank you to that anonymous person. Your way of addressing this was
probably more effective than you could have imagined that it might be.
I hope that this exercise will help me make the changes required, to make
me a better person, and help the team become the best that we can be.

Amos has written up his thoughts on the introspective.

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