Many retrospectives are at best purely processed focused and at worst blame games. Only focusing on process can often lack a holistic view. I’ve created a retrospective based on Ken Wilber’s “Integral Theory” and after seeing the positive impact it’s had on teams, it’s now my go to retro!

Integral Theory, (also called the “Theory of Everything”) itself is beyond the scope of this blog post but simply put, it’s a way of looking at problems or situations from multiple perspectives to achieve the best outcomes possible.

It’s based in four quadrants:

• I = Personal: This is about “Me” – my psychological, inner world; how I see things, what I experience, my mindset.
• WE = Relationships and Culture – a shared vision and interpersonal dynamics among peers; how we interact, what we value together, the team micro-culture
• IT = Practices: Refers to the team structure, methods, metrics, processes, decision making patterns, organizational, leadership and team practices
• ITS = Systemic and Environmental: Everything external to the team; systems, including other value streams, handoffs, rules, corporate culture and policies

Here are the steps to execute this retrospective:

  1. Start off by explaining the four quadrants.
  2. Ask each team member to try to think of at least one item for each quadrant.
  3. After posting inside the appropriate quadrant, start with the top left (the “I” quadrant) and have the team members read off the topics they wrote relating to self. Same goes for the bottom left which would be next (the “We” quadrant)
  4. The Facilitator then reads through the top right (“It”) and bottom right quadrants (ITS).
  5. Action items should be recorded throughout and may include things such as new working agreements, learning logs, ideas for team building, process improvements, and organizational improvements or impediments to remove.

An Integral Approach
By starting from self, we are asking team members to reflect on what they have personally done well and what they can improve on. Before we can ask others or the team as a whole to improve, we should look at what we can do to help the team first. Our own knowledge, skills, happiness, motivation, and behaviors live here.

Next in the “We” quadrant lives team culture and relationships, it forces us to think about how we treat each other and interact. Team morale, culture, dynamics, and how we share knowledge and skills lives here.

The next quadrant to consider is the “IT” quadrant. All of our team process lives here. This is where majority of retrospectives are focused, but in this retro it’s treated equally with the other three quadrants.

Lastly but certainly not least is the “IT’S” quadrant. These are usually things outside of the teams control but not always. They are usually systemic and environmental. Often things that exist in this quadrant impact the other three. It’s critical to address this quadrant because by improving items here, you can see huge improvements everywhere else!

Here is an example retro using this technique.

My Biggest Takeaway from Observing Teams after this Retro
A sense of ownership and accountability! Members on the team seem to have a greater sense of personal responsibility by focusing on the I quadrant first. Combining this with Christopher Avery’s “The Responsibility Process,” has lasting effects on not only team chemistry but individual growth. Integral Theory and The Responsibility Process have both been impactful in my life and I love sharing them with teams I work with. If you are interested in whole team ownership of quality and growth, this could be a tool to try out with your teams.

Further Reading
For more information on Integral Theory, check out the book “The Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber and for more information on The Responsibility Process check out the book “The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power” by Christopher Avery.

Part of this blog post was done in collaboration with Andy Cleff @justsitthere on twitter. You can reach me @g4stroy.