At Creandum we try to share some of the best practices we find in the fund’s portfolio companies. Here’s a real highlight from Forza Football.
One of the key ways we, as a VC, keep in touch with Forza Football is by being sent the meeting notes of their retrospectives. It’s great information on what’s improving, as well as the highs and lows of what’s going on in their business, but Forza doesn’t put together these meetings for us. They do it because they find it’s a key part of their culture where they can “always learn, have no fear, and are awesome to each other and the world around us.”
That last quote was part of the wisdom shared to us by Bob Jelica, who can best summarize his role as Head Coach. After 4 years at Spotify as an Agile Coach, at Forza it’s Bob’s operational-heavy role to be responsible for the wellbeing of everyone, and Forza’s way of working. Here’s our interview with him.
One of the most impactful things in my experience that you have done for Football addicts was to implement retrospective meetings. Why should a startup run a retrospective meeting?
Everyone, startup or not, should actively work on improving themselves. You should find a way that works for you, retrospectives are easy and fun enough to be effective, so you should definitely try doing them.
The most important thing is that you keep improving in everything you do. The main benefit of retrospectives is that you bring light on issues that need improvement in everything, be it your culture, your way of working, the way you execute on your goals, etc.
How would you describe what a retrospective meeting is, and how do you run it?
Retrospectives are a great way to make sure that you’re always improving. It’s beauty lies in the format. It should be a recurring thing (every 3 weeks is good), it should have all the people that are stakeholders in the same room, and the goals should be clearly communicated: we’re here to improve what we believe should be improved, no blame-game and other non-valuable stuff. It could be all sorts of things, big and small, but the main point should always be: improving.
There’s another side to retrospectives, which I really like, and that is: celebrating the stuff we’re doing well. That’s very important in my opinion, you want (at least) equal amount of “omg we’re awesome” and “there’s a lot of things we need to improve”. For the sake of not getting depressed
You can do retrospectives in a million different ways, but a good starting point is the Retrospective Wiki.
What I usually do can be broken down into 5 parts (2-2.5hrs should be enough):
Start with a timeline of what’s happened since the last retrospective (we do ours every 3 weeks).
This is to refresh our memory on stuff that has happened that might have affected teams, just facts. It’s often full of things like “We shipped X” or “Had that incident”.
What you’ll also get is a clear overview of how much stuff you actually do in 3 weeks time! It’s very moral-boosting to see all the achievements written on a whiteboard like that!
The good stuff
Since we do a big retrospective with everyone at the company (~25 ppl), we limit this to 3 things each. Everyone writes the 3 good things that we’ve been doing (or done) since the last retro. Again, a very moral-boosting exercise and you get to hear what people find important.
The stuff we should improve (or stop doing)
Again, 3 things each. When you just start doing retros, this list might be really long, but don’t despair! You’re all here to make sure it’s shorter every time, right? So 3 things each, and a short explanation of each thing, so everyone understands what it entails.
At this point, everyone get’s to vote on what are the most important issues for them on the board. 3 votes each.
When everyone has voted, we prioritize and go thru the list. Some of the points to improve might be resolved quickly by a decision on the spot, or putting someone in charge to drive the change. Most voted issues will then be discussed one at the time.
Here we take 7 minutes per issue. After 7 minutes, we do a thumbs-up/down vote if we’re satisfied with the action points and resolution or if we need more time to discuss. In that case, we do another 7 mins and then do another vote. Sometimes we’ll manage to discuss only one thing, and that’s OK, it seems that it’s so important to most that we really need to find a way to solve it. The important thing here is to really have concrete action points and decisions on how we solve this specific issue. We’ll start the next retro by going through this list and see how we did.
How should an early stage startup implement a retrospective meeting, and what are the main pitfalls to avoid?
Start lightweight and lean. Get the whole company in the room, decide that you want to be better, and start discussing and improving whatever comes up.
The most important thing is that you have the right people in the room. If you have issues that need improving, and the main stakeholders who can do it (or take decisions) aren’t in the room, you’re not going to get anywhere and these issues will just keep repeating. If they do, you’ve failed.
Another important thing is that you never undermine the importance of issues people bring up. You as a co-founder of the startup, might find it ridiculous that people are bringing up issues which you think are minuscule and you might think they should “just fix it”, but if they did have the right info, or tools, or mandate, they would have already. They’re bringing it up because they can’t “just fix it”, so you need to listen and support them.
Are there any type of organizations that are not suited for retrospective meetings?
No. And if anyone thinks that they don’t need to improve, they’re fooling themselves and will have a bad time, m’kay.
Some in addition you would like to share to early stage startup CEOs that want implement retrospective meetings?
Show your employees and your company that you really believe it’s important that you keep getting better at everything, and create a culture where improvements are supported and encouraged and there’s a forum where those things can be discussed.
Also: don’t be an asshole.