Reflection. One of the most important areas for organisations, teams and personal development, but it is also one of the most neglected. It is hard to do when heads are down and focused on day to day survival. It often falls to the bottom of the list.
Sometimes that is purposeful – you may not want to reflect too early, while still in the fog of an issue. Sometimes the lack of reflection is due to too many time pressures. When you are rushing from completing one task to immediately starting the next, there simply isn’t the space to reflect on what went well and what didn’t.
While these excuses are valid they still leave a gap. You can forge ahead but can you be sure you are still moving in the right direction?
As many organisations strive to become more agile the reflection and the learning which comes from it needs to take place as you go along. Do, reflect, learn, adapt, do, reflect, learn, adapt. It becomes a continuous cycle. An approach you can take to feed into this cycle is one I think of as ‘Win or learn’.
School, society, the media; they all teach us that we are either a winner or a loser. But that black and white thinking simply pushes us to see things as a battle. And there are too many real battles going on to add another. Win or learn thinking encourages a more growth mindset and helps us see everything as a useful experience – moving forward one step at a time. This is vital for organisations to maintain momentum and to our own mental fitness. If you win over stakeholders who have been highly resistant to change – fantastic. If you don’t, then what can you learn from the process and do the next time to gain stakeholder buy-in?
Failure is fine. You can bounce back. Not learning from failure can mean stagnation.
Here are five steps I recommend for teams to incorporate as part of their work, so that reflection efforts support win or learn thinking.
1. Getting many opinions
We all see things from our own perspective, filtered through our own experiences, position and personality traits. This means our reflections can become very one dimensional. Reflecting with others takes you from the equivalent of looking at a drawing on a sheet of paper to being in a 3D immersive iMax theatre complete with surround sound. Proactively asking all team members to be part of a reflection process, and ensuring they feel able to feed in honest feedback without feeling they risk negative repercussions, is vital. It means you have more balanced reflection and the actions which come from it are more likely to be acceptable to everyone.
2. Accepting all ‘truths’
There is no universal truth. We all have our own. But in business others ‘truths’ are often ignored, to the detriment of the organisation. When we accept that we each have our own truth we can reflect not just on what happened, or what went right or wrong, but how it made people feel. And people remember more about how you made them feel than what you said – so it is a key element to incorporate. These feelings may be uncomfortable to hear but they will help make you and your teams be more effective, help projects run more smoothly and change to be accepted more widely.
3. Action planning
Reflecting helps us with sensemaking. It helps us to develop better early warning systems, put in place stronger structures to prevent issues getting to a crisis point and consider ways to support staff in resolving issues. But only if it is taken seriously. Only if the reflections are turned into action. The resulting actions should be shared widely and their completion celebrated.
4. Purposeful reflection – in the moment
You may find yourself reflecting while driving home from a meeting or making coffee after a tricky phone call. Many people ruminate on these events quite naturally. But to make reflection effective for teams and to keep organisations truly agile it needs to be purposeful. And that means reflective practices need to be built into those regular meetings and calls. When you facilitate meetings well then you can ensure there is time within them to do the lessons learnt. What was effective? What can we do better next time? It is good self-discipline and helps everyone in the room develop.
5. Make reflection your job
Lastly, in an agile organisation, it is the job of leaders and managers to create a culture that encourages more time for retrospection. That culture shouldn’t just put reflection processes in place, but it should also show them being openly role-modelled. If others can see you do it, they will too. Highlighting successes which have come from this process will help to embed reflection at every level in the company.