Otte, Kondradt and Oldeweme from Kiel University in Germany have produced some interesting research on team reflection. Reflection being where a team looks back on past experiences. Their most research publication concludes (amongst other conclusions) that the quality of the reflection has a stronger impact on team performance than the quantity of reflection. What does this mean? Do we cancel every second retrospective?
The researchers studied teams using a simulation that ran two waves with five minutes of reflection between waves. All teams had the same amount time for reflection but could choose to use all of this time or not. Team performance was measured in both waves of the simulation. Reflection quality, quantity and implementation of changes was measured by the team member’s filling in a survey.
What are quality and quantity in this study? According to Otte et al. a high quality reflection is one where team members seek and evaluate detailed information on performance. This approach to quality may include going into detail to find the root cause of their problems or being detailed in the assessment of quality. For the authors of the study quality is about detail, going beyond the superficial. What does quantity mean in this study? Rather than how long the teams spent on reflection quantity in this study is how often information is sought and evaluated. Rather than going into detail on root cause (quality), quantity is regularly going identifying root causes. So a team can have both quantity and quality of reflection.
So the conclusion that quality is more important to team performance than quantity is not about the time spent on reflection. It is about the nature of the reflection. Lots of superficial measures do not help a team improve as much as fewer measures that are more detailed.
Another interesting, but not surprising, finding is that teams that implement changes to their work practices that come from reflection improve their performance more than just having quality reflection. Having a good look at how the team is going is great, doing something about it is even better.