Looking back at Helsinki from the Suomenlinna Ferry

Looking back at Helsinki from the Suomenlinna Ferry

At work last week my team conducted a ‘retrospective’ – a type of review meeting organized using principles from the software development agile design process. It’s pretty cool how we are using this approach more broadly at my company and especially for our leadership development work. We engaged the full team in a half-day review of our first half 2015 outcomes. The retrospective provided the opportunity to capture accomplishments, to explore how our ways of working were or were not serving us and the organization, and to focus on how to best move forward individually and collectively. It was incredibly powerful.


After outlining the outcomes we’d achieved, we explored:

  1. What worked?
  2. What didn’t work?
  3. What will we do going forward? (Plans, actions)
  4. Where do we need help? (Connections, collaboration)


Seems there are a couple of points of view on the idea of looking back. Some have the philosophy that looking back distracts you from the now, that you can’t start the next chapter if you keep re-reading the last one. There’s truth in that, for sure.

Seems to me that the value of taking a retrospective might be a matter of intention. Why are you looking back? Are you holding on, avoiding change, evaluating in a critical way, or regretting what you weren’t able to accomplish? Or are you opening up, embracing new possibilities, celebrating how far you’ve come, and exploring how to make an even more powerful difference?


The value of the retrospective is when it’s framed in ways that embrace intentions such as:

  • Learning and embracing a process of exploration and discovery
  • Partnering and collaborating with others to gain insights
  • Celebrating and seeing how far you’ve come
  • Sharing perspectives and making otherwise unseen connections
  • Paying attention to things that matter and appreciating the little things that make a big difference
  • Generating ideas and supporting ‘even better ifs’ going forward
  • Challenging ourselves and each other
  • Being open to change and making adjustments for maximum results
  • Fueling up and enriching the path forward


As I’ve thought about the purpose, value and intention around a retrospective, I’ve realized that the concept applies not just to a team exploring their impact together but can also be a valuable way to explore personal impact. So much of leadership development is about self-awareness and the self-discovery that comes from first looking within. Indeed, the great leadership programs I’ve experienced and am aware of are essentially opportunities to reflect – introspection is intentionally part of the experience, often with some that involves looking back at one’s life. When this happens from a safe place of positive intention, amazing things can happen.


What value might you find today by identifying an area of your life or work to explore and asking yourself: What is working and what isn’t? What do I want going forward? Where do I need help?  I invite you to share what you do in the way of retrospectives.

Retrospective Wordle c

* The photo is from my summer vacation – for more photos of my trip to Italy and Helsinki, check out my other blog: Celebrate, Relax, Indulge – Vacation Intentions Fulfilled.


8 thoughts on “Retrospective

  1. Vicki – you ask a great question that I try to be constantly aware of – “What is working and what isn’t? ” For me, the tool I use is the Body Compass from Martha Beck. I try to do a retrospective each night or weekly to see where something wasn’t working as well, and try to tweak or change that the next day as I write out my to-do list. In this way, the adjustments are easy, quick, timely, and incremental but add up to big changes. The other tool I like to use in analyzing the past is Six Thinking Hats by Dr. Edward de Bono – I find this tool helps the “inner judge” be fair rather than too biased. Living in the present moment is definitely something to be in balance with looking back, and looking forward. Not too much…but not too little of either ! Great post -thanks for sharing your wisdom through insightful questions!

  2. Hi Vicki! Great post. I don’t think you can beat the introspective drum enough. We are under attack from all sorts of external stimuli. When my phone beeps, indicating an IM, an update to Google+ or any other matter that now seems urgent (because it comes from an alarm setting on our phone), I am yanked from whatever I was doing (working, thinking, cooking, talking, DRIVING etc) to address it. This also includes ST’s from work. 🙂 We must always be “on” and “ready.” This detracts from my ability to engage in introspective and retrospective activities. It helps to have a nice reminder from you, along with some suggestions and structure. Well done!

    • Maureen, it does seem to get more challenging all the time. Your post makes me reflect on the power of alarms – how these little beeps and flashes and noises appeal to our fight or flight response – we almost can’t NOT respond to them! I turn off the sound on my computer – and often my phone – when I want to be at choice for when and to whom I respond. It is about being at choice and consciously creating ways to turn off the noise. Here’s to finding more of those in a day, my friend! Thanks for always coming by, pausing, introspecting and reflecting with us here! 🙂

  3. Pingback: 2015: The Year in Review | Leading With Intention

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