The culture of looking back and reflecting is not happening enough during discussions at the management meeting. The management behaviour that one should not cry over spilt milk has gone to far to the point that people don't want to indulge a conversation on past mistakes or lessons learnt.
These days management consider a discussion about the past to be going backwards. It is seen to be digressing and not progressing. In other words, there is no value in having that conversation.
The art of effectively retrospecting is not practised. What is happening is that people are worried that if such a discussion did happen the tone or mood of the room will shift to a blame game, people will tai-chi issues or be openly defensive or offensive. All these negative elements do not help the conversation. I agree, they do not. It does not mean being retrospective is not important. It is, the problem is we are doing it right.
Do we not recap the days events before we go to sleep and take cognisance of our own efforts and limitations and at times we tell ourselves not to repeat such things again. So if we can do it at the self level, why can't we do it at the team or organisational level?
An effective retrospection will help develop a sense of ownership to the event or activity. It will help the organisation save cost, save time and make corrective action almost instantaneously. The person who manages the retrospection need not worry about the negative tone of the discussion and debate but will help steer a focussed debate outcome of the issues.
Post-mortems, feedback sessions or lesson learnt discussions are still being practised but that activity is eroding. The intention and objective to it is similar to retrospection. The only difference is that in a retrospection hard and tough questions must be asked, just like we ask ourselves when we are all alone with just ourselves.
Another reason for not wanting to go down the retrospect road is because its common behaviour for people who hold top management roles not wanting to be queried on their actions or inaction. This cannot happen anymore. Gen Y and Gen Z will not tolerate such kind of leaders. Hence, the level of accountability and transparency will drop over time if this mentality perpetuates. In other words, the past will haunt the organisation if corrective action is not addressed.
I have listed down four very important areas all managers must adopt in order to be more effective in retrospecting. This is my little remedy - :-). I call it DEEP. Design, Evolve, Evaluate and Project.
1. Design - This is the opening session. The conversation piece must be staged or designed. "Always ask even if we did our best or were successful. Could we have done things better or differently?" Someone will have something to say. Let them say it and let them pour their issues. In the end analyse what they are really saying. For all you know, what they are saying could be really fundamental to how the organisational culture and behaviour is in your department or team.
2. Evolve - Grow the conversation from what it started to something more complex and difficult. "Who or what was the obstacle or stumbling block?" I know many management gurus will say this is not proper to ask but I will tell you from my own experience, if you don't ask, you will never know if the corrective matters if a process, procedure or a human experience. Over time, your team or organisation will know how to get their message across that they are unhappy and over time, no one would want to here themselves singled out as being difficult, the cultural shift will be the team will try to resolve the matter quickly and surely before it gets to your ears.
3. Evaluate - This is the process of really reflecting and doing a contrast and compare. "What was something new that was introduced to the thinking, process or activity that led to our failure or success?" This is always a good way to get people to appreciate variations, the differentiation factor and the influence that could or may have made the big change. Sometimes that change could be more than an idea, it could be because we had sat down together for lunch.
4. Project - This is where the leader must be open to hearing what others have to say. Sometimes during the earlier sessions, the leader would have noticed or understood that his or her own presence or lack of presence may have resulted in the outcome. This is the time to acknowledge and identify to the team what you have realised. An example of how to ask: "Did I as your leader hold you back or contribute to the success of the project? If so, what was it specifically did I do or not do?"
Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the Managing Director of I First International (IFI). At IFI our mission is ensure the nonprofit sector is able to enjoy and afford the benefits of top quality professional consultative services, thereby being able to scale up their impact on the ground. We focus on the Management and the Board. We help you help others.