“Healthy self-examination is a difficult and dangerous duty.” ~ Jared Mellinger
By the second month of the year, we’ve often felt accomplished in our reflection and are fast on the trails of starting the new year or new era. But reflection and examination are not, and should not be a hurried checkbox item or checklist task that we complete in January and stash away until next year. Reflection is difficult, time consuming, and somewhat dangerous in the required vulnerability. But this effort is also extremely healthy and helpful for teams that want to improve the way they work together and move ahead with confidence that they are improving, growing, and moving towards success.
Here is part 2 of a two-part series on a few helpful prompts for preparing for the new year
Think About Who Were The People Involved
Several years ago as a new manager performing my first annual review, my direct report mentioned that I was at least his third manager and that this was his second team in this year alone. After you have a look into what happened in the previous year, be sure to take a look back at who was involved with your team, organization, and business. Here are some helpful questions to consider as you review who was involved in the happenings of the past year:
- Who were the managers and titled leaders of your team and organization?
- Who joined the team during the past 12 months? (This should include new hires, transfers, and promotions)
- Who left the team during the past 12 months? (This should include transfers out of the team, promotions, and terminations and resignations)
- What events were the team members involved in throughout the past 12 months?
- What roles and responsibilities were involved in the major events? In the minor events? In the largest and most problematic situations?
- Who remained with the team and organization throughout the entire 12 months?
- At what points did people most often join or leave the team during the past 12 months?
Just as my first report and I unpacked the list of those involved in his team and leadership over the past year, be sure to do the same with your team, organization, and company. Look at as many levels of leadership as possible, and most critically at those that have a direct impact on the team and the team’s ability to delivery customer service, solutions and support. Looking over the list of who was involved can help you prepare for the coming year in several key ways that will improve the customer’s experience.
As you look back over the list of those involved, look out for patterns that indicate a high team turnover rate, staffing inefficiencies, and other forms of churn. Having this list handy can also help you and your leadership team identify skills gaps. For example, if the same two people are involved in every critical event, large customer engagement or deployment, or high-profile incident, there may be a gap in skills that needs to be redressed. Other helpful benefits of looking at who was involved include:
- Identifying positive opportunities
- Identifying candidates for promotion and new assignments
- Identifying coaching opportunities
- Identifying team members who may need a break
Our teams have also used similar year-long retrospectives to help shape onboarding policy, training schedules, and internal playbooks for various scenarios. For example, in 2020 after a series of critical incidents requiring a large response team, our Customer Experience leadership identified an issue with a team skills gap, escalation processes for urgent customer cases, and an improvement in call rotations.
Think About The Pace
After taking an honest inventory of what happened in 2022, as well as the people involved, another helpful area to explore is sustainable pace. Several years ago our team’s agile coach took a look at our dashboard. As the team explained the dashboard charts, everyone expected him to be impressed with the scope of work and the pace of activity. After several moments he asked, is this realistic? Is this pace sustainable? Consider checking in with your team with the following questions:
- Is the team’s productivity rising, falling, or staying flat?
- Are people more frequently angry or cynical?
- Was there enough capacity within the organization and team to complete projects? Were weekends and late nights frequent, frequently needed?
- Were any members of the team exhibiting signs of burnout?
- Do team members have time to reflect on things as they occurred and afterwards?
- How much sick leave occurred during the year?
- How much time did the team members take off to recharge?
- Do team members take time off regularly to recharge?
- How many people worked weekends and nights on non-emergency items?
- Did time off help the team with productivity and better customer experiences?
Thinking about the pace of the team and the organization can help you prepare for 2023 in a number of important ways including helping the team identify and set a sustainable and realistic pace, avoid or abate burnout, and help the team, organizations, and company improve work life balance and HR policies. These improvements can help drive better customer outcomes via a healthier team, with margin to manage workload and real life.
There are many other questions that can be extremely helpful for a year-end review including the following:
- What went well?
What’s in place and works well to drive the intended outcomes?
- What could be done better?
What item worked, but could be optimized to improve the outcome, execution, or other aspects?
- What must be done differently?
- What needs to be stopped?
What events, activities, habits, or behaviors need to be stopped immediately due to their risk, detriment to the mission, or harm to the team and organization?
- What is the most important lesson we learned and what lesson did we fail to learn?
Each individual and team should be learning daily. Looking at what you learned and what lessons appear to have been missed is important for preparing to move forward.
- Where did we spend the most time?
- Where did we need to spend the most time?
- What was the hardest part of the year and why?
For many teams, holidays present a major challenge, for some teams the summer season is hardest. Be sure to dig into this question
An important thing to note is that there are no right or wrong list of questions. The most important part is to start with the end in mind. The goal isn’t to badger, berate, or to punish the team. The goal is to identify the good, improve, the bad, and avoid the ugly so that in the end you have built a healthy team and continue generating amazing customer experiences.