“We truly believe…”

The prime directive of agile retrospectives: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”

This is supposed to create a supportive framework for a meeting where we talk about what went well and what didn’t go so well over the past couple weeks. This change in perspective (“there must have been good reasons for everything that happened”) should allow us to go into this meeting with openness and curiosity rather than accusations and blaming.

But I don’t always truly believe this. I also have a hard time believing that my colleagues truly believe this. To start a meeting by reciting something we only want to be true feels deceptive to me.

And yet I get the idea behind it. In this framework, we bring up problems from the last sprint and talk about them openly. We look for solutions. Instead of accusing, “You did a bad job,” we ask, “How can we support you so that this goes better next time?”

It is terribly frustrating to be in a team, especially a small team, where someone’s not pulling their weight. In a previous job, we had a situation where we were fairly sure that a teammate was actually working for their freelancing business most of the time. Their output was low and sloppily done to boot. And yet every two weeks, “We truly believe…”

As someone who values integrity, how can I say that in that situation with a straight face? Sure, I’m probably overthinking it and I should accept the underlying meaning instead of insisting that the words be taken exactly as they were written.

It can often be the case that there are private reasons behind poor performance which we’d have sympathy for if we knew about them, but which your teammates might not want to share publicly. Disciplinary measures to correct persistent poor performance are normally also opaque, so that it’s not known whether management is addressing issues or even taking them seriously. You could argue that both of these things are covered under “situation at hand”. Eventually that means that everything is the situation at hand, which makes the statement nominally true.

Maybe that’s the point after all. In the end, I must accept that the purpose of this directive is to focus the team on what they can change, and trust that problematic longer-term patterns will be handled by management. Perhaps we should be going into retrospectives with the serenity prayer as our guide instead:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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