How Show & Tell became relevant in my career
The popular elementary activity I rarely participated in (since I had little to show) holds fond memories for kids. For a few minutes a little child arrests the attention of the entire classroom with an interesting item that they brought to share. You know the standard format, everybody sits criss-cross applesauce in an attempted circle and each person pulls out something interesting and proceeds to explain cool things about said item. The fun part about show and tell? The showing part. The activity would instantly become monotonous and boring if the teacher removed the “show.” The “show” keeps kids accountable, no tall tales or hyperbolic descriptions of a cool thing at home that other kids cannot see.
Once forgotten, this activity leaped out of my subconscious (or unconcious?) when gathering retro feedback from our team. See, our team is quite “large.” We have about 19 people that gather in one room for retro (at least we used too). I implemented a different structure to make retros smaller and more intimate, and was now gathering feedback from the team on the new model. One individual suggested organizing groups by topics (instead of the current logical divisions on the project) to lessen the seemingly divided team. I thought it was a great idea. Other feedback seemed indifferent. At the time my understanding was that many would just go along with the flow, and whatever model was implemented was the way we did things.
However, I recently realized that I’ve been communicating a subtle message that undermines my vision for leadership. Part of my ultimate goal in leadership is to develop a culture of experimentation. Continuous improvement can only occur through experimentation. Trying new ideas instead of developing hypothetical outcomes to the point of not trying leads nowhere. However, I noticed when I implemented my new retro format that its structure remained unchanged over a year later. How can I expect experimentation if I do not experiment myself? I found myself doing the telling at the expense of showing!
To build a culture of experimentation, I need to reveal that it is okay to try new ideas. Of course there are risks involved, but continuous improvement requires tweaks here and adjustments there. My team should not expect the same thing each time they walk into a room for retro. I can move closer in this direction by experimenting on retros myself. Sure I implemented a new model but having done nothing with it merely made it the new norm. For the indifferent team member, why should this model matter more than the previous one?
This year I will be implementing different retro styles. Some will be based on topics, others will follow the format of the previous year, and others may surface through experimentation. I will not go off the deep end as experiments take time to gather data (and I need control groups and such), but to prevent retros from getting stale, and unlocking their full potential as the arbiter of better things to come, I need to increase the frequency of adjustments. Of course I expect people will desire stability and consistency, but to thrive in today’s world we must avoid comfortability.
Different retro formats? Maybe not a big deal. But they will be the “show” of this year. #leadbyexample