How to lead a Transformational Retrospective


Do your retrospectives look like this?

Team members walk into the room reluctantly. The Scrum Master throws out the Post-It notes onto the table and asks the team to write down some thoughts. You only have 3 minutes. You stick the Post-It’s on the wall and you dot vote. The top topics get discussed and you leave with some actions, which you never complete. 

This is a simplification but i’ve found it is often a representation of reality. Most retrospectives fail to achieve any serious and lasting change.

Why is this?

I believe a fundamental problem is that often team retrospectives are transactional rather than transformational.

We are all familiar with the agile manifesto value of individuals and interactions over processes and tools but so often we miss the mark in retrospectives. We focus on the tools and process rather than exploring the beliefs, assumptions and fears that are holding the individuals and team back.

I believe we need to value:

Transformational Retrospectives over Transactional Retrospectives

I’ve previously blogged about my experiences as a coach and the difference between transactional and transformational coaching. The same applies to retrospectives which can be defined as follows:

Transactional retrospectives are focused on actions. They are focused on achieving a certain set of steps to move towards some outcome. They are surface level.

Transformational retrospectives are focused on the whole, the individuals, the team, the system.They go below the surface. It helps a team create an awareness of the factors contributing to the achievement of their challenge or goal. Often these contributing factors stem from the teams limiting beliefs, assumptions and values formed from past experiences.


Here are some questions to consider:

  • When was the last time you explored the teams limiting beliefs, assumptions and fears in a retrospective?
  • When was the last time your retrospective led to a transformational shift in team performance?

How do you lead a transformational retrospective?

If you are a scrum master, agile coach or team member you are probably wondering how to lead a transformational retrospective.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to help create the conditions for transformational change. These special moments often arise from emotional and uncomfortable situations. If the right conditions do not exist team members might find it difficult to express their emotions and embrace discomfort.

Creating psychological safety starts with you.

How open are you to embrace the emotion and discomfort?

  • Are you able to ask the powerful and difficult questions that never get asked?
  • Are you open to be vulnerable?
  • Are you willing to show who you really are?

The famous google Project Aristotle highlighted the importance of psychological safety. Within the project was an excellent story of leading by example when Matt Sakaguchi shared his secret battle with cancer with his team:

“….to Sakaguchi, it made sense that psychological safety and emotional conversations were related. The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.”

The next time you lead a retrospective try to remember:

Transformational Retrospectives over Transactional Retrospectives



5 biases of Unconditional Positive Regard


Barefoot Coaching hold a regular A-Z of coaching on twitter and the most recent topic was Unconditional Positive Regard.

Popularised by Carl Rogers, Unconditional Positive Regard is accepting and supporting the person for who they are without evaluating or judging them. It is one of the three core conditions to a transformational coaching relationship.

I have learnt that Unconditional Positive Regard is conditional.

It is conditional on the coaches awareness of cognitive biases that show up in the coaching relationship.

There are 5 biases I have found that influence my ability to demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard:

1. Unconscious Bias

We all make unconscious judgements of individuals based upon our past experiences and beliefs. This can often create a barrier in our ability to demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard. The risk for a coach is if our judgments remain unconscious they could influence our ability to help create a transformational relationship.

2. Negativity Bias

As humans we tend to focus more on negative events. Coaches need to be aware that we will naturally be drawn to the negative experiences of the client, especially as the client themselves will also be susceptible to this bias. All clients have many positive and wonderful experiences that can be used to shift perspectives. It is often this shifting from a negative position to another that can lead to the client seeing their situation differently.

3. Confirmation Bias

As an internal coach, I often hear a back story about clients before taking a coaching engagement. For example, I will often be approached by a manager explaining why one of their team might need coaching. It is important to be aware that if we begin a coaching relationship with preconceptions we may seek to confirm these beliefs. Suspending our own beliefs and judgements is fundamental to showing positive regard unconditionally.

4. Anchoring

Humans have a tendency to rely on one piece of information too heavily. This is called anchoring. If for example, a client shares a disturbing situation, we may anchor on this information and give it too much focus. Helping the client explore other information helps them build a richer and deeper awareness of their situation. Trying not to anchor on negative experiences is a practical example of Unconditional Positive Regard.

5. Optimism Bias

In some ways you could view Unconditional Positive Regard as the optimism that all humans are capable of great things regards of their background or current situation. Seeing the world as glass half full can be a great way to see the possibilities around us. However, over optimism can bring downsides too. Not letting optimism take over within the coaching relationship is important. I have found this particularly to be the case discussing actions. The client may be over optimistic about the actions they will take. Using a technique such as If/Then planning can help the client see their actions from different perspectives helping them achieve sustainable change.

Due to these cognitive biases, often Unconditional Positive Regard is conditional.

It is conditional based upon the coaches level of awareness of their cognitive biases.

How can you build a better awareness of your biases?

There are 3 activities I have used to build personal awareness:

  1. Supervision – Coaches need to be coached. Building awareness of your cognitive biases and how they show up can be a great topic for supervision.
  2. Journaling – Keeping a daily journal of your coaching enables you to reflect on how you showed up in recent coaching sessions.
  3. Learn what biases exist – Below is a great visual summary of the different cognitive biases. Eye opening!





Scavenger Hunt – Training from the back of the room


Can you remember the childhood adventure of a scavenger hunt?

I remember a field trip we took in school. We were tasked to find different types of wildlife in our local park. It was a fun way to learn.

You might be surprised that scavenger hunts can be a great way for adults to learn too.

Last week I facilitated a scavenger hunt during an “Introduction to agile” workshop. Each group was tasked to find a set of agile items around the office and then prepare a presentation to the other groups on their observations. The scavenger hunt items were:

  • Kanban Board
  • Definition of Ready/Done
  • Agile Manifesto
  • Story Map
  • Impact Map
  • Team Agreement
  • Kudos Card

Many of our teams visualise their work so these items were already scattered around the office. To give the teams a little extra help I put colourful signs near each of the items and arranged for colleagues nearby to be on hand to answer questions. The groups were given an observation sheet to help capture their notes and to help prepare their presentations back to the workshop audience.

huntAs soon as I finished explaining the Scavenger Hunt everyone literally ran out of the room to find their items. When they returned to present their findings it was amazing to see how much they had learned in a short period of time.

Scavenger hunts are a great demonstration of “Training from the back of the room” which is an approach to accelerated learning. A scavenger hunt is a fun way to let the learners teach each other by sharing their observations. It also helps bring energy to workshops and get the learners moving. There are plenty of other techniques in Sharon’s book to help you step aside and let others learn.

Learning Maps are another Training from the back of the room technique i have used in the past too.

So what are you waiting for? Get the scavenger hunt planned!

The 5 psychological barriers to agile transformation


I recently listened to an excellent “You are not so smart” podcast where Per Espen Stoknes talked about the psychological barriers to climate change action.

The messages within the podcast are very similar to the barriers i’ve faced helping individuals and teams be more agile


I’ve taken Per Espen Stoknes 5D’s model and applied it to my context:

  1. Distance –  “Agile is just for software development teams” Many see agile as a distant approach which doesn’t apply to them. This is particularly amplified when teams such as operations, HR and Legal are physically distant from development. Another example is that teams often feel an agile future is too far into the future. If as coaches we say that agile will be a “long journey” temporal discounting kicks in and teams think we’ll just wait for the trend to pass.
  2. Doom“70% of fortune 1000 companies have vanished in the last 10 years”. This is a common quote used to stir up urgency for change. Whilst this statement is factually true, we are psychologically wired to ignore these messages, known as Normalcy bias. Messages such as “The end is nigh” are sent straight to the trash bin in our brains.
  3. Dissonance – If what we know conflicts with what we do then cognitive dissonance kicks in. A great example is when managers know that teams work best when they are self-organised but continue to adopt a command-and-control management style. A manager may explain this away by saying “This team are just not mature enough to be self-organising.”
  4. Denial – Ask most teams and they are quick to say “We are already agile”. Teams often deny that they need to improve. Upon further discussion this is often because the change triggers fear and guilt. Many teams i’ve worked with fear that they will be found out as an underperforming team and thus punished. It’s not surprise that in these cases self-defence mechanisms often trigger.
  5. iDentiy – Agile is a value based approach and requires people to examine their personal values. This triggers a deep identity crisis within many. For example a manager who is asked to give up their management role and become a development team member can trigger a serious identity crisis. It is also important to be aware that people are more likely to to listen to those who share their values. Therefore who delivers the change message can just as important than what is says.

Here are some coaching questions which might help you think of ways to overcome these barriers in your organisation:

  1. How could you create a bridge to connect separate teams so that the feeling of distance is reduced? (Distance)
  2. What would be a more positive way to phrase this? (Doom)
  3. What success stories could i share? (Doom)
  4. What systems can i put in place that allows people to behave in ways aligned to what they know? (Dissonance)
  5. How can i be a mirror to reflect back the dissonance to people within the organisation when it occurs? (Dissonance)
  6. How can i make teams feel safe when they work with me? (Denial)
  7. Who could support me in sharing the message with the organisation? (iDentiy)

The biases mentioned in this blog are listed here:

I strongly recommend listening to the podcast here:




Is your coaching Transactional or Transformational?


On my journey to become a coach I’ve learnt that it is as much about my own personal growth as it is of the people I serve. To build transformational coaching relationships, I must first grow myself.

Transactional coaching is focused on actions. It is focused on achieving a certain set of steps to move towards some outcome. For example, public speaking. Transactional coaching would focus on the actions to be more comfortable with public speaking. For example, breathing techniques, adopting a power pose before the talk or improving the presentation slides. A transactional coach may ask questions like “What could you do before the talk to calm your nerves?”, “What could you do if you get nervous on stage?” The focus is often on the presenting symptoms rather than the underlying cause.

Transformational coaching is focused on the whole person. It helps a person create an awareness of the factors contributing to the achievement of their challenge or goal. Often these contributing factors stem from our limiting beliefs, assumptions and values formed from our past experiences. Using the example of public speaking, a Transformational coach will ask questions to explore the underlying causes. “What is important about becoming a public speaker?”, “What has contributed to nerves or tension before a talk?”, “What are the beliefs associated to your public speaking ability?”, “What are your needs?” The results from transformational coaching often lead to long term success.

As a coach, how do I provide transformational coaching? Although transactional coaching does have a place and can often lead to success, there are times after a  coaching session that i think the relationship could of gone deeper.

So, what is preventing a transformational coaching relationship from forming?


Often it is my own fear and inability to be vulnerable that prevents coaching relationships going to that to that place of Transformation. Carl Rogers highlights that to create transformational moments, as coaches we need to show empathy, unconditional positive regard and be congruent. To be empathetic, I need to enter the shoes of another but often I’m scared to do that. To show unconditional positive regard, I need to suspend judgement but often I judge. To be congruent I need to show vulnerability but often I hide my emotions.

These points are a great example of why coaches need coaching and supervision. If coaches are to create transformational relationships we too must grow and develop.

What coaching do you provide?

What beliefs, values and assumptions are you holding that could be preventing those transformational relationships?

How to supercharge a workshop with Learning Maps


I’m sure we have all been to many workshops and the first thing a facilitator presents is the agenda for the day. If you are lucky this might be on a flip chart or even worse its powerpoint slide 1 of 100. Your initial thoughts, this is going to be a long day.

Introducing Learning Maps

Learning Maps are an interactive and metaphorical way to present your agenda. People learn best through experience so a learning map creates an instant connection to the workshop topics.

Here is a Learning Map I used at a Coaching workshop:

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This Learning Map consists of the following elements:

  1. A metaphor, in this case an island, which allows learners to connect to the topic in a simple way. The agenda is represented by the different places on the island (Coaching Caves, Lagoon…..)
  2. A mixture of words and images which engage different parts of the learners brain.
  3. Blank space for the learner to record their thoughts before and after the workshop which is good for reflective practice. Also enough blank space for the learner to make the map their own.

My inspiration for Learning Maps comes from Sharon Bowman, author of Training from the Back of the Room. In the book she explains that through Learning Maps learners will:

  • Create visual images of important concepts
  • Engage in a variety of ways to learn: visual/spatial, linguistic, logical/mathematical, and kinaesthetic.
  • Use both hemispheres of their neocortex or thinking brain
  • Lengthen long-term retention of important information
  • Remain involved and engaged throughout the entire direct instruction
  • Leave the training with a visually interesting reminder of what they learned.

So next time you are facilitating a workshop why not try out using a Learning Map. They are a really simple but super powerful tool to help boost your learners experience!


Powerful Coaching Questions at Tate Modern Gallery


Asking Powerful Questions is one of the foundations of Coaching.  Asking questions that go beyond what is obvious enables the Coachee to think more deeply about a Goal or Challenge.

The Tate Modern Start Display has some great Powerful Questions inviting the visitor to go beyond the obvious and think more deeply about the art on display. This certainly provoked my own deeper thoughts.

Here are some examples: