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Would you include a health check on the team during a retrospective and if so, how?

Would you include a health check on the team during a retrospective and if so, how?

Welcome to part 31 in our Scrum Master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

This is a funny interview question because we aren’t clear on what they mean by health check.

Very often, what a health check means is that we check in on the team and identify:

  • Are they happy?
  • Are they satisfied with the environment?
  • Is there anything that is preventing them from achieving their goals and objectives?
  • Do they feel psychologically safe to voice their opinion and contribute to the team?
  • Are there any organizational policies that are creating headaches for the team?

And so forth.

The purpose of a sprint retrospective.

The sprint retrospective is an opportunity for the team to come together, exclusively as a team without any outside participants or interference, to discuss what has happened and how we can improve as a team.

In many ways, it automatically includes a health check to understand if there are any major issues that are causing frustration, friction, or creating problems for the team.

A part of that is examining the quality of the relationships in the team.

  • Are people working together?
  • Do people feel safe to contribute?
  • Do people feel safe to challenge insights, ideas, and plans?
  • Do people treat one another with respect?
  • Are people open, honest and transparent in their interactions with one another?
  • Are people committed to the team and its goals?
  • Are people honouring the working charter agreed to at the formation of the team?

And so forth.

Team Satisfaction.

I would take a highly satisfied team over a happy team every day of the week.

Happiness is too fleeting whilst satisfaction means people are prepared to stay the course.

If people are satisfied with their relationships, their working conditions, their remuneration, how they are treated, and with the workload placed on them, you are likely to have a high-performing team that continuously improve.

If they are focused on happiness, that could be as fleeting as feeling happy that pizza arrived this Friday or being unhappy because it didn’t.

Try to focus on satisfaction, as part of your health check, rather than happiness.

I would just ask the team to give me an indication, on a scale of one to five, where they are at in terms of satisfaction.

Exercises in the Sprint Review

You can ask people to describe the past sprint in terms of a weather report rather than asking them how happy or healthy or satisfied the team is.

If you see there are thunderclouds across the board, it is clear that all is not well and you need to interrogate the cause of that feeling. If it’s one person indicating storms, whilst everyone else is consistently happy, it may just reflect that they are grumpy but still a fully functional and valuable member of the team.

Look for consistency.

Is that person, or the team, consistently showing a great weather report or is there a systemic issue that is causing problems.

As a scrum master, I would ask individuals on the team to expand on their weather report to reveal what problems might be arising, the nature of those problems – interpersonal or systemic – and what they think could have happened instead.

It’s a great way to check in on the health of the team and identify any patterns of behaviour or experiences that may be problematic in the future.

Have constructive conversations.

The satisfaction scores, combined with the weather report, is a great way to identify whether a deeper conversation is needed.

If someone is consistently satisfied and provides a great weather report, but on this occasion indicates the opposite, that’s a marker for a conversation. The same is true in reverse, if there is consistently bad weather reports and low satisfaction scores, and this time it’s sunny skies and high satisfaction scores, it’s time to have a conversation.

Yes, the sprint retrospective exists to find a way forward out of quicksand or to identify ways to improve as a team, but sometimes that may be about dedicating the entire sprint retrospective to focus on interpersonal relationships.

Maybe there’s tension, friction, and resentment building and the most valuable way to improve is to surface these issues and have frank, open, and respectful conversations about that.

Healing interpersonal relationships and creating strong bonds between people, both personal and professional, can sometimes go a long way in helping the team consistently achieve high performance.

So, try not to have a preconceived idea of what the sprint retrospective should be about, instead look to learn through the event. Use what you discover to focus on the most important elements of the team dynamic, and use the sprint retrospective to generate ideas and opportunities for the team to improve.

The initial health check may steer you in that direction, or it may indicate that all is well in terms of how teams interact with one another, their time is better invested in tackling systemic or process issues.

About John McFadyen

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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