Happiness Retrospective

I facilitated a retrospective today; it was one of the best retros I’ve ever been involved with. I figured out what activities I wanted to do earlier in the morning. They were really quite simple. I wanted to focus on happiness.

How happy are you at work?

I started with two questions that I’ve used with teams before, to some success (although not so successful for one particular team). The first question I asked was “How happy are you at work?” I had them put a rating from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning they should have quit last week, and 10 meaning they couldn’t imaging being happier at work.

The answers were mostly 7s and 8s, with a 5 and a 9. The average came to 7.5, which is pretty good. The 5 concerns me a bit, especially that it’s 2 points lower than anyone else’s answer.

How effective do you think the teams is?

The next question I asked was “How effective do you think the teams is?”. Again, from 0 to 10, with 0 meaning they can’t accomplish anything, and 10 meaning you couldn’t imagine a more effective team.

When I ask both of these questions, the scores are always highly correlated. If your team isn’t doing good work, it’ll make you unhappy. And if you are unhappy, you’re less likely to do your best work. This team was no different; the 5 and 9 became a 6 and a 10, and most of the 7s became 8s, for an average of just under 8.

What makes you happy at work?

The next question I asked was “What makes you happy at work?”. The answers were mostly about the teamwork and teammates. This went quicker than I expected. At this point, I was worried the retro would only last a little more than 30 minutes.

What would make you happier at work?

The final question I asked was “What would make you happier at work?”. This was the real pay-off. We spent about half an hour just talking about the things that would make us happier, and what we could do to improve our happiness. We came up with 10 potential action items. I usually limit teams to trying 3 or 4 action items, but most of the items are quite small, so we’re going to try 6 of them. One is just observing another team’s standup meetings, to see how they’re using their time effectively.

Everyone went away feeling that this was a really good retro. It felt good to focus on happiness. Happiness is something I’ve been talking a lot about on the This Agile Life podcast, and it felt good to take some action on it. I’ve done “positive-only” retros before, but this one felt even better than that, by specifically targeting happiness and how we can achieve it.

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