Why you need to run a values retrospective

22 February 2021
Peter ParkesPeter Parkes

How do you put your organization’s values into practice? Where could you get better? And are they even the right values in the first place?

These three questions are important, but rarely asked.

All of this presupposes that you’ve spent some time thinking about and writing down your values and if you haven’t, that’s a necessary first step. Ours are here.

If you have, you probably haven’t looked at them in a while. At Qualdesk, we decided to do this at our last quarterly team offsite, but this had two downsides:

  • Recency bias: during our discussion, it was very difficult to draw on examples from anything other than the last couple of weeks, and so we felt a sense that we were missing useful information that might help us make better decisions.
  • Very time consuming: talking through every single one of our values simply took a long time, and while the discussion was generally useful, by the time we’d got to the seventh (and we only have seven!) the quality of conversation wasn’t quite where it was on number one.

How did we fix this?

Values retrospective Some notes from our recent values retrospective on being user-focused

Two simple principles:

  • We have conversations about values more frequently
  • We break this discussion down into more manageable chunks

One of our values is that we build our workplace like we build our products, so the obvious answer to this was to start doing values retrospectives. For us, this means:

Every 4 weeks, we spend 1 hour discussing one of our values. We talk about:

  1. How we’ve put it into practice over the last four weeks
  2. Where we’ve failed to put it into practice
  3. Whether the value itself is relevant and useful in helping us achieve our vision and mission

We record follow-up actions if necessary, but the conversation itself tends to be enough. And the impact has been clear:

  • We gain a new way of reflecting on how we work that isn’t constrained by the focus of a traditional sprint retrospective
  • We have a better understanding of how our values add value (lol)
  • We have a structured way of challenging them