We’re always looking for new ideas, insights, and opportunities for improvement. Retrospectives are the best place to find them.

In 1981, a group called Narcotics Anonymous was trying to convince its members that expecting to stop using drugs on their own while simultaneously continuing to use narcotic drugs was folly.

They published a guide book for addicts who were trying to overcome their disease. In it, they published the quote:

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

How true. Yet, how regularly I run into situations where people have seemingly never come across this quote or logic.

So many of the the companies and leadership teams I work with find themselves in the same patterns, the same ruts, and the same undesirable outcomes as they found themselves in previously. Yet, they don’t seem to do or change anything about it.

From the outside, it’s like watching Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

From the inside, however, it’s like being in a bad dream where you know something is amiss, but you just can’t do anything about it.

The challenge in these situations is remembering that the cycle is created by the system, not the individuals. The system is what allows the pattern to continue.

In order to break out of this pattern, you need to create a broader level of awareness of the forces at play and see the situation from a higher vantage point. Only then can you begin to see the situation for what it is and take actions that will really create change.

People look everywhere to learn. They read books, they talk to friends, they watch videos, they take classes. But if you want to learn how to change your future results, there is one place to look which is superior to all of these other options.

The best place to look is your recent past. And the best way to do this is through something called a retrospective.

It’s known by many names. Some people call them post mortems. The military calls them After Action Reviews (AARs). If you’re big into Lean or Japanese management culture, you might call them Kaizen meetings.

They are all basically the same. And they all follow the basic same format.

  1. Collect data
  2. Develop insights
  3. Brainstorm possible actions
  4. Make decisions and commit

I recently made a video outlining these steps. I discuss the ways I use retrospectives with clients. (See above.)

It’s only by looking at the recent past and seeing the patterns we’re in that allows us to see how the system is working. Once we have that information, we can see what adjustments are required to change that system.

I also wrote an article for Inc.com on this topic. You can check that out here:

The Secret To Turning Your Mistakes Into Opportunities In 6 Simple Steps

Want to learn how you can use a retrospective to improve your company? Start with the video and the article. Then check out these two books.

Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews by Norman Kerth. This is the bible. Check out his Prime Directive, which I use at the beginning of each and every retrospective that I run today.

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. Great book by two amazing women in the technology field. Full of ideas and techniques for running retrospectives for any type of team.

Need more help?

Check out my webpage on retrospectives and learn how I work with teams to create powerful retrospective meetings that inspire change.


Still need more help?

Let’s jump on the phone for 30 minutes. I’ll help you develop your agenda and choose the best approach for you and your situation. Click here to book a time in my calendar.


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