Transcript of "Retrospectives anti-patterns, with Aino Corry"

[Intro Music]

Clare: Hello and welcome to Making Tech Better, Made Tech’s fortnightly podcast bringing you content from all over the world, on how to improve your software delivery. For us, that means empowering your teams to collaborate compassionately on creating high-quality software that delivers value quickly, to the people that really matter, the users.

My name is Clare Sudbery, and my pronouns are, ‘she’ and ‘her’. I’ve been a software engineer for 21 years. I do a lot of speaking and writing on the topic of software delivery and I’m a Lead Engineer with Made Tech.

At Made Tech, we practise Agile software development. It’s easy to forget that not everybody does. If people need convincing, that’s a whole other episode. I’ll just say being agile means having the ability to change. One strong technique that facilitates that flexibility is the retrospective. This is where teams get together on a regular basis, review working practices, think about what is going well but also about what could be improved. Many, many people use them but today, I get to speak to Aino Corry. She is the queen of retrospectives. She is the author of the book Retrospectives Antipatterns. If you don’t know what antipatterns are, they are dysfunctional behaviour patterns or bad habits. So, it was fantastic to speak to Aino and learn how to get the absolute best from your retrospectives.

Clare: Hello Aino.

Aino: Hello Clare, thank you very much for inviting me to this. I’ve been looking forward to it so much.

Clare: I love to hear that, it’s wonderful to have you here. I know Corry is author of the book Retrospectives Antipatterns, which loads of people have been telling me about and raving about. I was really keen to speak to Aino. She also asked me when I was introducing her, to say that as well as being the author of the book Retrospectives Antipatterns, she is also the owner of a growing collection of plush cephalopod.

Aino: Exactly.

Clare: What is a cephalopod?

Aino: It’s just a fancy name for an octopus. I just really like octopuses as a species. When you get plush cephalopods, they are normally very cute and easier to take care of than if it was a live one.

Clare: They are amazing though, aren’t they?

Aino: Yes.

Clare: When you see videos of what they can do, they can squeeze themselves into teeny tiny spaces and through tiny gaps. They can do things like open screw lids on jars.

Aino: Yes, they are really impressive, but I think the most impressive thing about them is their brains, which work so much differently than ours. In the beginning when people started looking at them, they thought they were really stupid animals, but they’re not. They can learn all sorts of things, really amazing.

Clare: Yes. But their brains don’t work the same way, they don’t look the same, do they, if you stick them under a microscope?

Aino: No, exactly. That’s why they thought they were stupid, because they just looked at the brain mass, which is a very poor way of measuring IQ, I would say, because my head is extremely small. So, I think that is a very poor way of measuring it.

Clare: And they have senses throughout their tentacles, don’t they? They very much experience the world through their tentacles.

Aino: Yes. Not just that, they actually have pieces of their brains in the tentacles.

Clare: Ah, yes.

Aino: Which is actually why there is an octopus as the ongoing illustration in my book. Because you can see the octopus as being made up of eight separate brains, with one brain uniting them in the head. It’s a little bit like a team. They have all their brains but then they have to work together like one organism. I think that really gets the gist of retrospectives, where you want to look at how you can improve the teamwork, the team cooperation and communication, and you can’t really separate one tentacle from the rest of the octopus.

Clare: Yes.

Aino: I like that sort of picture.

Clare: That’s really interesting, because that idea of the team as an organism where all of the parts are separate but also learning from one another and creating this larger organism, it also came up when I was talking to Jessica Kerr recently about symatheses and learning teams.

Aino: Yes, I can imagine.

Clare: There you go, that’s a plug for another episode of this podcast. So, let’s talk about the book because I’m really interested to talk to you about it. But before we do, the first question I want to ask you is, who in this industry are you inspired by?

Aino: If I should name only one, it would have to be Linda Rising, because she was the one that gave the talk many years ago in Denmark about retrospectives, when I didn’t know anything about retrospectives. She was the one who gave me the book by Norman L Kerth: Project Retrospectives. She was also one of the opposers in my PhD defence, because I made a PhD about patterns. She has been a voice throughout my entire life after university, and also a little bit during university. I really am impressed by all the things she reads and understands. Not least, the way that she can communicate it to everybody else.

Clare: You say she gave you that book. I went to a Q & A with Linda Rising at an agile conference in San Diego a couple of years ago. She had brought a ton of books with her and she gave them away to people in the audience. I can’t remember exactly how it was constructed. I think it was that anybody who came up and asked her a question got to choose a book and take it away with them. She obviously likes giving books to people.

Aino: Yes. The reason why I got the book was because she asked if there was anybody in the audience who did not know anything about retrospectives, and I was the only one who raised my hand. Then she said that I could get the book.

Clare: Fantastic.

Aino: I was also the one who needed it the most, I guess, if I didn’t know anything about it.

Clare: Perfect then, yes. Let’s talk about the book. In your book, you say that you’ve always been fascinated by the thought of helping people and teams reflect and learn. Would you say that describes your role in this industry? Is that what you do?

Aino: Very much so. I have my own consultancy, which is called Metadeveloper, because I’m not a developer anymore, but I’m developing developers, so I’m a metadeveloper. What I do most of the time is try to help teams communicate, with retrospectives but also with all other aspects of software development. It could be when they have to plan some work, when they have to make a demo to customers, when they need to have some ideation or when they have to start a new team and have some sort of lift-off. So, I definitely do that all the time.

I think I help a team in one way or the other, five to ten times a week.

Clare: So that has become your job, and are you happy? Is this all of your dreams come true, is it what you always wanted?

Aino: Well, I never really knew what I always wanted. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, that I know. I think that being a teacher for me is helping people understand what they need to understand. It’s the same sort of thing going on now, I’m helping teams communicate and helping architects communicate with other developers, and helping developers communicate with customers. Helping stakeholders communicate with users and everything like that. It’s the same thing that I am really trying to make people understand their environment. In my experience, understanding gives you happiness.

Clare: I empathise with that so strongly. I feel very similarly because I love to teach, I love to help teams and I am really, really keen on communication. I’m really hyper-aware of communication. I’m always aware of ambiguity, I’m always trying to remove ambiguity. I’m always noticing when two people or two groups of people think that they are communicating, but I’m not convinced that they are.

Aino: Exactly.

Clare: And I want to try and smooth that process out. For me, that does mean that sometimes I overcommunicate because I am so keen for everything to be very clear and very clearly understood. The frustrating thing that I’ve learned but I still have to keep reminding myself, is that if you try too hard to make everything very clear, what you are actually doing is bombarding people with information. You reach a peak of a curve and you go over the other side, so that actually you are no longer communicating because you’ve tried so hard that people are being bombarded with information and they can’t take it all in.

Aino: Yes, that’s a bit like cognitive load, in teaching research. For instance, if you are giving a lecture to some students, some teachers think that the more information they can get across the table, the better – the more the students will learn. But there’s a curve there. Of course, if you don’t tell them anything, they don’t learn anything, but there’s a sweet spot. When you reach that peak, that sweet spot, if you continue talking, if you continue introducing new concepts, then actually, what they’ve already learned will deteriorate, so you will go downhill again afterwards. That’s the cognitive load theory, which is really important.

Clare: Yes, I was briefly a high school teacher, and I was still learning that lesson of how to communicate efficiently and effectively and not give too much information. Somebody once said to me – I think it was somebody who taught public speaking – they said when people did their workshops, they could always tell the ex-teachers because they were always really efficient at transmitting information. They wouldn’t say too much, they would say just enough to get their message across and then know when to stop.

Aino: Exactly.

Clare: So, your book, Retrospectives Antipatterns, is about antipatterns that you have seen in retrospectives, and how people can avoid them.

Aino: Yes.

Clare: What is your elevator pitch in favour of retrospectives?

Aino: Every team should take the chance to reflect from time to time. They need to do that to share, to appreciate, and to learn to become a better team. It’s like that book by Diana Larsen and Ester Derby about agile retrospectives making good teams great. Even a good team can improve with retrospectives.

If you want to add onto that, what I normally do when I’m talking to a team that says, we can’t get any better, we’re brilliant as we are, we don’t need a retrospective, I’m saying that even people who are professional skiers, they still try to learn more about how to ski better, even though they won a gold medal in the last Olympics, they’ll still try to improve how they ski. Maybe with muscle training, with their sleep, maybe with what they eat, maybe with how they train, you can always become better.

Clare: Yes, I love that. You said that on your own journey about learning about retrospectives, you realised that good retrospective facilitation is not just about knowing which activities to use. There’s more to it than that. So, what is that extra magic, beyond just knowing what activities to use, that really makes the difference when you are facilitating retrospectives?

Aino: Well, luckily, it’s not magic. It can be learned by anybody. The reason why I said that it’s not just about knowing a lot of activities, is that I remember in the beginning when I was facilitating retrospectives, sometimes people would say oh, we use the team raider. Oh, you don’t know what the team raider is? Then I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t know that. Oh, you don’t know the six thinking hats? No, I don’t know that either. But I was still a pretty good facilitator.

When I started reflecting on how retrospectives work and how they don’t work, in the book, what I noticed is that it’s a lot more about being able to actually actively listening to people, without thinking about how you should answer. So, when they are saying the same thing again, they are actually saying, this is really important to me and I can’t move on unless we have some sort of ending on this.

Also, the body language. It’s more difficult now that it’s online – we can get back to that – but also the body language of people in the room is really important as well. I spent a lot of time studying body language, not just in books but also in actual people. To the extent that when I go to a restaurant, I look at all of the other people instead of the people I’m with. I find it so fascinating to see that he is talking to her, but his legs have turned towards someone else. Okay, so that’s where his focus is really.

I think also, the preparation of a retrospective is crucial, and something that people sometimes forget. They just think, let’s talk about what went well, what didn’t go well, what we can do better next time. I think preparation is important. Look at the action points from last time. Be sure that you have them there. Be sure that you have a list of all the people who are there for numerous reasons. Be sure that you have planned for how to go through the five phases of a retrospective; setting the stage, gathering data, generating insights, deciding what to do and ending the retrospective. Sometimes you need to have an extra plan, a Plan B, so that you can yank in something like the soup exercise or something like that, if you see that it’s going in a weird direction.

The preparation means that you don’t need to know all the activities by heart, you can just find them while you are preparing.

Clare: That’s interesting. The thing that I particularly notice there is you talking about a Plan B, because I had facilitated a few retros where I had got the idea from other people that I had observed, that I would always start with a safety check. I would ask people to give a score of how comfortable they felt about sharing information and talking openly about their experiences. There was one retro that I facilitated where one person gave quite a low score. I continued with the retro, but I remember thinking, I don’t actually know what I’m supposed to do about this. If somebody has said that they don’t feel comfortable or confident participating, then I don’t – maybe I shouldn’t actually be doing this. Speaking to other people – actually, I’m not going to tell you the advice I got, I’m going to ask you. What would your advice be in that situation?

Aino: My advice in that situation would definitely be that you either stop the retrospective or you will try to spend time figuring out how we can make people feel safer in this retrospective. Of course, that depends on the culture of the people, how well you know them. Sometimes it is with a team that you know well, and you know that you can have another exercise where you can ask them, what could make you feel safer? Sometimes, it’s people that you meet for the first time, and you see that somebody is just completely unsafe, you could actually say, I think we should do this retrospective another day and then try to work on it at one-on-one meetings in between. Because if somebody feels that unsafe at a retrospective, that person will not be able to make the best of the retrospective, because it’s about sharing. Sometimes, sharing things that you are afraid of sharing. So, the safety is really crucial. Also, if one person is not feeling safe then there is probably something in the culture of the team that needs to be fixed, and perhaps only one person said that because the others are actually too unsafe to even say that they are unsafe. So, it would depend. That’s the consultant’s answer, it depends. But definitely, spending time on it and not just moving forward.

Clare: Yes. I was going to say, if somebody feels unsafe, then they might also feel unsafe about having a conversation about why they are unsafe.

Aino: Exactly.

Clare: So, you can’t necessarily address it there and then.

Aino: No.

Clare: I have to confess, when it happened to me, it was a small team, and I was the tech lead in that team. I was facilitating the retro, and I facilitate a lot of ceremonies and things generally within the team. I kind of felt personally upset and almost hurt. I think I’m so nice and nurturing and I think I create this really positive environment; how can you feel unsafe? You have to be aware of that because you have to be able to take a step back and look at it objectively and say, look, for whatever reason, somebody feels unsafe. If I take that personally, then I make it be about me. Which is going to make it even harder for them to open up and explain why they feel unsafe. It’s not about me.

Aino: But it’s not easy. It’s definitely taken me many years of facilitation to understand that I should not take these things personally. It’s not about me. If somebody thinks this is a terrible retrospective, it’s probably at least not just about me. If somebody feels unsafe, it’s not just about me. I mean, it could have been something I have done, but most likely it was there already before I came before I even entered the room. That is something that is difficult for a facilitator, because you feel like it’s your responsibility.

Clare: Yes. I do also think that particularly if you are in a position of leadership, it’s easy to underestimate how much power you have. You can think that you are being ever so open and nurturing and approachable but no matter what you do, other people are going to potentially see you as having power and influence that you don’t even realise you have. That can make people feel insecure, and you have to be aware of that and not ignore it.

Aino: Definitely.

Clare: Okay, so you talked about body language. Obviously, that has now become much harder, now that we are all working remotely. Do you have any tips for getting over that? I’ve really noticed that meetings are harder, meeting with large numbers of people are harder because it’s much harder for me to read the room, for me to see people’s body language. For me to read all of those non-verbal cues that I don’t even know that I’m reading – it’s not even conscious, it’s just a skill that we all learn because we are human. We don’t even know we are using it.

Aino: It’s really difficult. I think that the first thing that a lot of other people are saying is to hide your own video view, don’t look at yourself. Because if you are there yourself, your eyes will turn towards you, to see if you are looking stupid or fat right now. At least, most people have that problem. So, if you take that out of the equation, that already makes things easier, but it is a problem. It is especially a problem if people don’t want to be on video while you have these retrospectives with them. What I do normally is I have my document that I always have in the retrospective, where we share things, and we write things, and we vote on things. Then I have a different screen where I have all of the pictures of people, all the video pictures. I try to look at the video pictures when somebody is saying something. Sometimes you can see that they are sort of rolling their eyes, sort of sighing a little bit – not that again. Or you can see that they are eager, they are almost crawling into the camera because they need to say something.

Or you can see that they are perhaps doing something else. It’s just very difficult if people don’t want to show their face on video. There can be various reasons for people not wanting to show their face on video. It can be a cultural thing; it can be a psychological thing. I think that as with many other things, you should try to figure out what is the cause and what is the symptom here? The symptom that you see is that they are not on video, but what is causing this? Is it because they really feel bad about making people look at their video? Is it because they feel bad about what it looks like in their homes? Is it because their partner is going behind them in the nude? What is it?

Or, is it because they want to take this retrospective from a car or from a coffee shop? Because if it’s because they want to take it from a car then it’s a symptom of a cause that is that they don’t take it seriously. If somebody continuously is not showing themselves on video, even if you are trying to lure them out with games, then you should take a one-on-one conversation with them and explain to them that it’s not just for fun that we want to see you. It’s because it’s a crucial part of my job so that I can see how you react to what other people are saying. I can see what you look like when you are saying things.

Of course, you can always just start with the sweet, you can say, everybody find something blue from their office and just show it on the camera. That will make people turn their camera on because they have to show this blue thing. And once they have had their camera on, it’s easier to stay on the camera.

Clare: That’s a nice little trick.

Aino: Yes, it’s a nice little trick. But as well if somebody suddenly turns on their camera, you shouldn’t say, ‘Oh! How wonderful! You turned your camera on, how lovely to see you!’, I fall in that trap still, even though I think it is a bad idea. Normally, when they don’t want to be on video it’s because they don’t want all that attention. So, giving it a lot of attention when they finally get on video is really an antipattern as well.

Clare: Yes, that’s interesting. Part of the problem as well is that for some tools, if you don’t want to look at yourself, the easiest way to do that is to just turn your video off. So, for some of them, you are either on and having to look at yourself, and the only way to not look at yourself is to just turn your video off for everybody. Actually, the only reason they are doing it is because they don’t want to look at themselves.

Aino: Yes. That can be interesting to learn because then you can say, well, you can put a post-it note on your camera and you can take it away when you are talking, so it’s only when you are talking that you show yourself, and the rest of the time you don’t have to.

Clare: Yes.

Aino: That could just ease them into it. But I think most things maybe have a hide-self view now. In the beginning, I would move another window over my face, like I have done in this interview, actually. I have another window open over my face because I didn’t know how to hide my self-view, so I just hid it on my own screen.

[Music sting]

Clare: While I’ve got your attention, let me tell you a bit about Made Tech. After 21 years in the industry, I am pretty choosy about who I’ll work for, but there’s lots to love about Made Tech. We’re software delivery experts with high technical standards. We work exclusively with the public sector. We have an open-source employee handbook on GitHub, which I love. We have unlimited annual leave. What I love most about Made Tech is the people. There is a real passion to make a difference and they really care for each other.
Our Twitter handle is Made Tech, M-A-D-E-T-E-C-H. If you go to, you’ll find that we have a couple of free books available; Modernising Legacy Applications in the Public Sector and Building High Performance Agile Teams. We are currently recruiting in London, Bristol, South Wales, and the North of England via our Manchester Office. You can find out more about that if you go to

If you join our mailing list, you’ll get extra podcast content as well as finding out more about Made Tech. You’ll find a link in the description.

[Music sting]

Clare: Before we return to Aino’s interview, just a quick recap of what we were talking about before the break. We were talking about facilitating retrospectives remotely, and how it’s a good idea to make sure that everybody is visible so that you can pay attention to body language.

Clare: Have you had to facilitate a lot of retros remotely? I’m guessing you have.

Aino: Oh yes, yes.

Clare: Are there any other little tips and tricks for making retros work when they are remote?

Aino: It goes back to the preparation again, I would say. If it’s a real-life retrospective, then you can just draw the three circles to the soup, or you can make a team raider, or you can give them some more post-it notes or something like that. But if it’s online, you have to have prepared this document. You have to make the agenda, prepare the document and then you have to remind them the day before. Send them an email saying, ‘This is a link to the document, please make sure you can access the document’. Then sometimes, if you send an email 15 minutes before the retrospective, just to say remember to take a bio break and get some coffee before the retrospective. Just warning them a little bit in advance about the fact that their bodies need help from time to time.

Clare: That is one of the things that I have found the hardest because I was full of good intentions at the start of lockdown. I could see straightaway that it was going to be really intense, sitting in back-to-back meetings, therefore I should make sure that none of my meetings filled the slots that they were in. So, if it’s a 30-minute slot, make it a 25 or a 20-minute meeting. 50-minute meetings in hour long slots. Give people opportunities to have breaks between meetings. But somehow, suddenly l look at my calendar and yet again, there are back-to-back meetings with no breaks. Or the other thing that happens, particularly with somebody like me who loves to talk, is that I will schedule a 20-minute meeting into a 30-minute slot and then at the end I’m like, oh, we’ve got some spare time, let’s carry on talking.

Aino: Yes, it’s so nice! And we don’t have the physicality and geography of moving from one room to the other, which we have in real life.

Clare: Yes, my body has really noticed the difference. It’s the nature of my job, it has been for a while now, that I do attend lots of meetings. That was a good thing when I was in an office because it forced me to move away from a desk and move away from a computer. I have arthritis in my shoulders, and there are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t stay sitting for long periods of time. It used to be that meetings made sure that I didn’t, and now the opposite is true.

Aino: Now it’s the opposite, yes.

Clare: I think probably any of us who have ever worked with software teams and facilitated retrospectives, or attended retrospectives, would have come across the reluctant retrospective attendee. The archetype is the programmer who doesn’t want to be dragged away from their code, who feels like time is being wasted and just want to be left alone. Also, there are people, and I am sometimes one of those people, who just doesn’t want to be in a room with people, they just want to talk to a computer. That can be draining. Interacting with people, social interaction, can be really draining. So, they are reluctant to attend retrospectives and they don’t always see the value.

You say in your book that you take great pleasure in showing sceptical software engineers who just want to be left alone to code, what they can gain from communicating.

Aino: Yes.

Clare: How do you win those people round?

Aino: Well, I have to say first that there are two people in my past that I was not able to win around. I will never forget those two, the two that got away.

Clare: You’ve never forgotten, have you?

Aino: I will never forget them. That being said, it’s true that I really like a good challenge. Being a retrospective facilitator in IT will give you that challenge from time to time. One of the things you said that was very important, was the value. Because the reason why they don’t want to spend time on it is because they don’t think they get enough value out of it, as opposed to the value that they lose when they do it. The value of doing the work, the programming, or the value of being left alone without any other people. It’s important that you show them that there is value in the retrospective.

There are several ways to go about this. One of the things that I think is important is to make sure that when you have them in a retrospective, to be absolutely precise about why you are doing the different activities. If you just have a lot of activities in the beginning, like for instance, asking the team to describe the last sprint as a weather forecast. I probably wouldn’t do that with people like that, I would probably ask a more serious, adult question, like, ‘What did you take too seriously in the last sprint?’ or ‘What was the success that you experienced in the last sprint?’, or ‘Was anybody else in the team working on that success story?’, something like that. Then explain to them that the reason why we have that check-in question is a) because I really want you to focus on what we are doing right now, because from when you go from meeting to meeting, you have this brain residue that comes along from the last meeting. Or perhaps you were writing code, and you have that brain residue, you were in the flow, you were thinking about the architecture. To flush that out of the brain, I ask them a question that they have to answer, which is focused on reflecting on the team or reflecting on the sprint.
Also, when everybody has said something, it is easier for them to say something afterwards. The activation phenomenon from psychology is that if they are left alone without having to say anything, it is much easier for them to stay quiet all the time.

Then I would say that the third reason for doing this is that I want you to know something about each other. That is the way we build trust between team members, and trust between team members is one of the most important things to have, so that you can work together efficiently as a team. Because then you can ask questions, then you can say ‘I’m stuck’, then you can help each other. So, building trust is important and getting a relation to other people, knowing how they saw that sprint, or perhaps later, knowing what they had for breakfast or what they are looking forward to, or where they are going on vacation. It’s important to create that relation that gives you the trust within the team.
So, saying why you are doing the activities, and afterwards debriefing what you got out of it is really important. And making sure that the action points are really measurable, and really attainable. Then at the next retrospective, be sure that you look at the status of these experiments or action points, so that they can see okay, we actually got something out of it.

There are so many ways of thinking about it. Sometimes, when people are really tired about retrospectives, I don’t even call it a retrospective. I go out and ask them what problems do you have? And I say, I have a structured way of finding out the causes behind that problem.

Then I just use all the activities from a retrospective to make the cause analysis to generate insights, to decide what to do so that they can create an experiment.

Clare: That’s great. My god, you’ve just spent five minutes and you’ve said so many useful things.

Aino: Thank you.

Clare: That was fantastic. I loved the thing about getting people to participate in order to clear out the brain residue, because I’ve definitely done that. I’ve been in meetings where my brain is still full of whatever code I was just interrupted from. I’m only half there. I think the common strategy in retrospectives and similar meetings, is for us to ask people to silently contribute by writing on post-its, virtual post-its or filling in Trello cards or whatever. It’s very easy in that circumstance, for somebody not to contribute and for their head to still be full of the brain residue. So, asking people to actually speak is a really interesting tactic, I really like that.

You said in your book that retros can be easily ruined. Do you have any stories? Give me one story of how you can ruin a retro.

Aino: There are many ways a facilitator can ruin a retrospective. I’m just going to name one from the facilitator and one from attendees.

Clare: Okay.

Aino: One way a facilitator can ruin a retrospective is by instead of facilitating, interrupting people, and saying, ‘No, that actually didn’t happen like that.’ Or ‘Maybe you should try this, I tried this, and this worked really well for me.’ A retrospective is about the team sharing, and the team figuring out themselves what to do. If you want to come up with a lot of good advice, or talk about your problems, then you should do that outside of the retrospective.

As an attendee, the way that you can ruin a retrospective is of course, to not play along. Or to even play against it doing the same, interrupting or not sharing anything or not voting, or laughing when other people are saying something. It goes back a bit to asking people, ‘What can you do to make this a good retrospective for everybody? How can you ruin this retrospective?’. Because when you do that, you are not only saying what you could do to ruin it, but you are also saying in a subtle way how other people can ruin it for you.

Clare: Yes, that’s really interesting. What would be the top retrospective antipattern that you haven’t mentioned yet that you would love people to learn how to handle, spot and fix?

Aino: How much time do we have?

Clare: We’ve actually got five minutes left.

Aino: My top three retrospective antipatterns. Prime Directive Ignorance, whereas the facilitator, you ignore the prime directive from Norm Kerth that says everybody did the best they could. And you ignore it because you think people will think it is ridiculous. Then if you ignore it, perhaps there will be some blaming and scapegoating.

The second one is the Wheel of Fortune. The wheel of fortune says that if you go directly from gathering data to deciding what to do, and you skip the generating insights, then you might start solving the symptoms and not the problems. For instance, you might start saying, if people are saying they want less meetings, okay, we’ll just cut away half of the meetings. But if you spent some time finding the causes, generating insights, maybe you find out that it’s because the meetings are really badly led, or there is no agenda, or we are never deciding anything. So, it’s not really because they’ve got too many meetings, it’s because they’ve got lousy meetings. That’s why it’s called wheel of fortune because it’s like spinning a wheel of fortune. Sometimes, you solve a problem but sometimes, you are just solving the symptom and the problem is still there.

The last one is called In the Soup. Where sometimes there is something that the team can’t do anything about, it’s outside their circle of influence, but they continue to talk about it. They continue to spend a lot of time talking about it in each retrospective, instead of just trying to figure out okay, what can we actually do something about? What is it that we can influence, and what is out of our influence? Because the things that are out of our influence are in the soup. We can just adapt to them  or learn to live with them.

Those are my top three retrospective antipatterns.

Clare: Brilliant. That was really useful, thank you. Okay, we are running out of time so I’m going to ask you to tell me one thing that’s true, and one thing that is untrue about you. Then we are going to play the mean trick on our listeners, of not telling them which one it is. If they subscribe to our mailing list, then they will find out the answer. So, tell me one thing that is true and one thing that is not true, but don’t say which is which.

Aino: I have a coffee mug that used to belong to Steve Jobs.

Clare: Oh, okay.

Aino: I go to a lot of conferences, so I know a lot of speakers and many of them have worked with Steve Jobs.

Clare: Hang on a minute, you said you go to a lot of conferences, I thought you were going to say that you’d spotted Steve Jobs, spotted he had a mug and when he wasn’t looking, you snatched it! That would have been bad enough. Now you seem to be suggesting that there are people going around stealing Steve Jobs’ mugs and then taking them with them as loot to conferences and using them as bartering chips. How did this come about?

Aino: Yes, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

Clare: So, did they offer it to you as a prize? Why did they give it to you?

Aino: If I say too many details here, it’s going to be difficult to figure out which is true and which is not true, isn’t it?

Clare: Okay, so which is the other thing that may or may not be true?

Aino: It may or may not be true that I started running half-marathons when I turned 40. Because I got a birthday gift that was a registration for a half-marathon.

Clare: Gosh. How far had you run before then?

Aino: 10km.

Clare: Okay. I only know marathons in miles. 13 miles is more kilometres, isn’t it?

Aino: Yes.

Clare: How many kilometres is a half-marathon?

Aino: 21.7, I think.

Clare: Twice as far as you had ever run before. Just because somebody gave you a voucher.

Aino: Yes.

Clare: Okay. To end on a high, what is the best thing that has happened to you in the last month or so? Either work related or non-work related?

Aino: I think the best thing that happened to me was that I turned 50.

Clare: Well done.

Aino: Yes, it is well done, isn’t it? I mean, the alternative is not very good.

Clare: Yes!

Aino: Even though there was Corona, I have been celebrating in small bursts with family and friends. Going for a walk with a bottle of champagne or sitting in the park with some delicious food, or everybody getting tested negative and then having a meal together. It’s been a weird way of celebrating but it’s actually been really nice.

Clare: That is nice. I’m 51 and proud. So welcome to the club!

Aino: Thank you.

Clare: I like to see it as an achievement, rather than anything to be worried or embarrassed about.

Aino: I think it is an achievement.

Clare: It’s money in the bank, it’s wisdom. The older you are, the more fascinating experiences you have behind you.

Aino: Definitely. I like myself more every year.

Clare: That’s lovely, I’m so glad to hear that. Okay, so where can people find you, and do you have anything coming up that you would like to plug?

Aino: The only thing that I would like to plug at the moment is my book.

Clare: Absolutely. Retrospectives Antipatterns, by Aino Corry.

Aino: And I have a website called, where you can find me. Or you can find me on Linked in or on Twitter. Also, just Googling my name, Aino Corry because nobody else has that name in the world.

Clare: Fantastic, I’m pretty sure that nobody has my name either, but it is slightly less exciting. People do have my name; they just spell it wrong. Nobody has my name and spells it like me. It does mean that I get to use my full name as a username and I get to have domains and accounts and things that always use my name with no extra numbers or any extra tricks added in, because nobody spells their name like me. But then of course, that relies on people being able to spell my name in order to find me.

Aino: True, true. I’m sure that it will get spelt wrongly if you don’t tell them what to do.

Clare: Absolutely, yes, people never know. So, this is my opportunity to tell everybody. Clare has no ‘I’ in it, and Sudbery is spelt the same way as surgery or carvery with an ‘ery’ on the end. Just think of knives and you will get there.

It’s been so much fun to speak to you Aino.

Aino: Likewise.

Clare: It seems like your coffee did the job, we managed to get you laughing a few times.

Aino: Definitely. Coffee and a chocolate and you.

Clare: Wonderful.

As always, I am going to help you digest what you’ve just heard by summarising it. Even Olympic athletes strive to improve, so it’s always worth thinking about whether you’re getting the best from your retrospectives. Take psychological safety seriously. What can help with this is for retrospective facilitators to stay impartial. Don’t take issues personally.

When working remotely, encourage people to be visible so that you can observe their body language. Do your preparation and encourage others to do the same. If your team are reluctant or sceptical, be sensitive to their bugbears. Discuss and demonstrate the purpose and the value of the retrospective. Have a debrief at the end. Make action points measurable and attainable and emphasise trust building. Encourage active participation right from the beginning, to clear out the brain residue.

Facilitators can ruin retrospectives by contradicting people’s stories, or by focusing too much on their own advice and experience. Attendees can ruin retrospectives by not participating or poking fun. One thing that you can do is to ask attendees how they believe they could make it better, and also how could they ruin it?

Aino’s top three antipatterns are; Prime Directive Ignorance, which can lead to blaming and scapegoating, In the Soup, which is where you get bogged down on things you can’t control, and the Wheel of Fortune, which is where people move straight from gathering data to deciding what to do, and skip the process of generating insight, which can mean they end up solving symptoms instead of problems.

If you want to know more about all of this, then please do look up Aino Corry and her book, there will be links in the description. But the episode is not over yet. Stick around for more content.

Every other episode, this last, short segment will be devoted to Hack of the Month, where one of my colleagues, and in the future our listeners too, will share a life or a work hack.

This time we have Kirsty Rhodes, who is our Business Development Director at Made Tech. She is going to speak to us about dealing with stressful life events.

Kirsty: Hi Clare. One of the life tips that I’ve recently given myself, it’s something I came across when I lost my dad when I was about 23, through surviving the grief involved in that. It was just to take each day at a time. There is only so much you can do in a day. That helped me when things got overwhelming. It’s something that allows me to relive my dad in my day-to-day life and keep his memory alive. It was around fifteen years ago that happened, and we lost him quite suddenly.

So, whenever I do get overwhelmed with things, whether it be family life or work, whether it be a big target, if I’ve been given a big target that I need to achieve in a 12-month period, I do strip it back and say right, come on Kirsty, you must take each day at a time, don’t get too overwhelmed. I think even now, when you are hormonal and your blood sugar is low and if you get overwhelming by home-schooling, everything that is going on in the pandemic, and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just that advice that I have taught myself from my dad’s grief, helps me to get through some of the challenges fifteen years on, today.

Working in the public sector means that at Made Tech we really care about making a difference. So, for this final Making Life Better segment, myself and my colleagues will be making suggestions for small things we can do to make the world a better place.

This one is simple. Get more sleep. Most people don’t get enough sleep. Sometimes it’s because they don’t prioritise it. For a lot of people, it’s not a choice. But why will more sleep make the world a better place? Now, I have to be careful here, because once I get started talking about sleep it’s hard for me to stop.

I’ve recently read Why we Sleep, a book by Matthew Walker and I really, really want to interview him. So, if anyone knows him and can put me in touch, please do. What I’ve learned is that sleep is really, really good for your mental and physical health. It’s also good for everyone else because when you’re well slept, you have more empathy, you have better emotional control. You’ll tend to treat your colleagues better, and your loved ones and you’ll do better work. And you are less likely to kill someone on the road. An awful lot of road traffic accidents and deaths are directly related to lack of sleep.

If you are a medical professional, you are less likely to kill one of your patients or clients. And it helps the immune system, which is obviously really relevant right now because good sleep the night before a vaccine makes immunisation significantly, measurably more effective. Yes, I know, more sleep means fewer hours awake, which means you’ll get less done, right? That’s what I thought, but no. Since I’ve been getting more sleep, I’ve got more energy, I’m more effective, I’m more productive in less time.

I know that for many people, good sleep is not a choice. So, is there anything that you can do to improve that choice for others? For instance, don’t praise people for working long hours, don’t expect them to work long hours. Don’t force people who are naturally owls to attend early morning meetings, and don’t force larks to stay late.

If you have trouble with sleep, I highly recommend the book Why we Sleep by Matthew Walker. There are lots of recommendations in there for how to improve your sleep. And if you go to, then you will find my summary of Matthew’s recommendations.

And that’s the end of another episode. You can find me on Twitter, @claresudbery, which might not be spelled the way that you think. There’s no ‘I’ in Clare, and ‘Sudbery’ is spelled the same way as surgery, with E-R-Y at the end.

You can find the podcast on Twitter @makingtechbett2. That’s; making, T-E-C-H-B-E-T-T-2. You can say hello, give us your feedback, give us any contributions you have for future episodes, or just have a chat with us.

Thank you to Rose for editing and thanks to Richard Murray for the music. You will find a link in the description. Also in the description is a link for subscribing for extra content. We will be releasing new episodes every fortnight. Thank you for listening and goodbye.

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