An Emotional Intelligence Retrospective for the New Year

perplexed bird
This bird is perplexed. Or just fabulous.

Something about the new year always makes me think of retrospectives. After all, what better time to have a personal retrospective than when everyone is thinking about a resolution – aka an improvement – for the new year? Yeah, okay, so most of the time I was sitting on my couch watching old IT Crowd episodes and eating cheese, but this holiday season I was also thinking about deeply profound things like “how do I know that I helped people this year?” and coming up with things that I wanted to try out in the year ahead.

It occurred to me that my biggest challenges and biggest accomplishments for the year were rooted in emotional intelligence. And that made me remember one of my favorite days from 2015: A retrospective I created and dubbed the EI retro. My fellow agile coaches were kind enough to let me try it out on them, and it went a little something like this:
  • Each member of the group reflects on the last iteration, and chooses (or invents!) a word that best describes how they feel about the iteration. Keep your word a secret (for now!).
  • The first member of the group writes their word on a white board.
  • The other members of the group talk about what they think the word means to the person who wrote it, and why. The person who wrote the word listens to the conversation, without giving away any reactions or opinions on what their team members are saying. (Time box this as appropriate for the group’s size).
  • Once the other team members are finished discussing, the team member who wrote the word can now explain what their word means to them. (If they made up a word, this is even more fun!).
  • Rinse and repeat for each member of the group.
  • As the retrospective progresses, look for themes in the discussion where the team can find an improvement or experiment to try, preferably something the team can measure.

I love this retrospective because it has multifaceted benefits: It’s entertaining, it asks team members to be creative, and it challenges them to empathize with each other. It gets teams talking about their emotions without being overtly “touchy-feely” – a common reason that some team members don’t want to have retrospectives. Most importantly, it helps us to become more adept at identifying and understanding the cause of another person’s emotions – the core of emotional intelligence – which also helps us to build the most important thing in life: Good relationships with each other.

Happy New Year, everybody!

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