There’s no better time for reflection than at the beginning of a year. Designating time and space for retrospectives allows team members to identify problems and propose different solutions. Doing this habitually builds psychological safety, one of the key attributes of high-performing teams.
At Atlassian, we use the 4Ls Retrospective technique to facilitate team reflection. During this activity, team members identify what they Loved, Loathed, Learned, and Longed for in a project or sprint of work. Reflecting back on work helps the team use what they’ve learned to improve.
It only takes 60 minutes to run, and I have step-by-step instructions and templates for your team to try it, too. Let’s dive in!
Before the session, agree as a team on the time period you’d like to look back on. For remote teams, create a collaboration document: you can check out these templates in Trello, Confluence, and Miro. For in-person teams, find a whiteboard and set out sticky notes and markers. Create six columns labeled Milestones, LOVED, LOATHED, LONGED FOR, LEARNED, and Actions.
If your team is distributed—meaning you have a few members who sit together, in-person, while others dial in virtually—we recommend running this play in an entirely virtual fashion by asking in-person team members to participate via Zoom.
To build psychological safety, where team members feel they can speak freely without fear of repercussions, reiterate these points at the start of the session:
- We’re talking about how we have worked to see how we can make improvements.
- We understand everyone did the best they could given their knowledge and tools.
- This meeting is a safe space. Nothing that is shared will be used against anyone.
- We’re here to explore, not to blame.
Have the team think back over a specific time period and identify key events that occurred. Provide a few examples, such as results achieved, team celebrations, team members joining, or company events. Anchoring the team in key milestones jogs the team’s memory of events that occurred and how they felt about them. Then set a timer for five minutes for people to add their own key events to the Milestone column.
Explain the four lists to the team: “LOVED,” “LONGED FOR,” “LOATHED” and “LEARNED.”
- LOVED: what you loved about your work over the time period. This is what you want to keep doing, or do more of, in the future.
- LONGED FOR: what you wish you’d had. It could be more people, more time, more coffee. Nothing is off the table.
- LOATHED: what made life worse back then. What do you hope will never happen again?
- LEARNED: what you learned from your successes and your mistakes.
Set a timer for 10 minutes for everyone to place activities in each list. Don’t rush it. Giving time to write allows for processing and reflection while also giving quieter team members space for sharing their ideas.
For 10 minutes, either as a team or in breakout groups, discuss:
- One action you’ll take to remove something from the LOATHED list.
- One action you’ll take to amplify something from the LOVED list.
- Use the LONGED FOR and LEARNED lists to help shape your ideas for what actions to take.
Come back together and give each person or group a few minutes to share their plan. Use the actions list to capture each action. Make sure to include who will do it, what they are doing, and by when. Commit to when you’ll track progress on actions on a regular basis, such as at team meetings or at the next 4Ls.
Before you break, schedule your next 4Ls session. Once a quarter is a good start. I also like running this play at the end of a big project or moment, like a product launch or annual meeting.
I’ve run this play with dozens of teams, and it’s amazing to see the dynamic shift during the session. Giving team members an opportunity to reflect together and contribute to a better path forward can be transformational. What are you waiting for? Carve out an hour in the next month and see how it goes.
Mark Cruth is Atlassian’s resident Modern Work Expert. Focused on practice over theory, Mark spends his days coaching both Atlassian and customer teams on new ways of working, then sharing what he’s learned at events around the world.