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Remote Team Reflection: Tips for Effective Post-Mortem Meetings

It’s that time of year again: time for wrapping things up neatly with a bow, and looking back on a year full of activities with an equal dose of nostalgia and realism, along with the resolve to make next year even better.

Yes, ‘tis the season for fourth quarter post-mortem meetings! Or, if you prefer, reflective evaluations. (What did you think I was referring to?)

Unsettling as their moniker may sound, post-mortems are a critical part of our professional journeys because they offer us all the chance to learn and grow. They help us to gain critical insights into what worked, and what didn’t, and most importantly, determining why certain things happened in the way they did and how we can improve upon them next time.

This isn’t an opportunity to point fingers. If anything, post-mortems should be a team-building experience as a way to examine past actions and their results. Finally, you’re able to assemble a collective outlook to guide future projects and enable you to be even more successful. They’re also invaluable when considering your organization’s learning and development planning for the next calendar year.

For remote teams, such reflective evaluations are especially useful. Many of the decisions made and steps taken on the way to project completion can take place behind-the-scenes, out of view of colleagues who are sometimes physically located entire regions or time zones away. Even with centralized tools and hubs for information, requirements can get muddled and milestones can become unrealistic.

We often pride ourselves on our ability to work autonomously, yet at the same time, we ought to examine how well we collaborate—whether it’s done synchronously or asynchronously, and if our cadence of communication matches both our team’s and our clients’ expectations.

Naturally, project post-mortems are a bit different from year-end post-mortems for a variety of reasons. Here, I’ll explain them with a Nintendo reference.

  • Think of reflections occurring after a project as a row of coins in Super Mario Brothers.

Reach for those golden nuggets! (Image © Nintendo)

Each time your remote team meets to compare notes after the conclusion of a project, you’re gathering valuable, situation-specific quantitative and qualitative data that can give you additional lives (ahem, I mean, perspectives) for forthcoming projects of a similar nature or for the same client.

  • Year-end reflective evaluations, then, are like fire flowers.

Future obstacles don’t stand a chance against you now. (Image © Nintendo)

Fire flowers are the ultimate power-ups in Mario’s world. (Yes, I know I’ve skipped over mushrooms altogether…bear with me, please.) For us, year-end post-mortems are akin to these flaming blossoms. They enable you to assume an even more powerful defensive layer against internal and external threats—in your case, these could include false assumptions, greater competition, or mismatched expectations.

The following steps are essential to both:

  1. Establishing meetings. Explain why reflective evaluations are needed, and what others can anticipate to do in preparation for them.
  2. Setting a schedule. Send out meeting invites for dates following major projects or those at EoY with clearly articulated agendas to ensure that folks are available.
  3. Ensuring participation. Showing up counts, but offering insights matters most. Choose a medium that will permit all to lend their voice.
  4. Identifying key metrics. What you evaluate will shape future progress. Measure the most critical aspects of a project or yearlong operations, whether these include requirements, responsibilities, communication, or time management.
  5. Follow-up. Don’t let the Google doc gather dust; pinpoint what will enhance team productivity and customer happiness moving forward, and operationalize actions you can take outside of the constraints of a single project.

Now for the fun part: making it all happen remotely! For the most productive post-mortems done at a distance, you’ll need to take into account:

  • Shared visuals. Know who’ll be called upon to share screens during the call, and what items will need to be circulated beforehand so that your distributed team will be on the same page.
  • As best you can, select a time when you’re able to have an all-hands meeting so everyone has a chance to participate—making this as painless as possible for those on the fringe of your main time zones.
  • Data capture. Recruit a volunteer or assign someone the responsibility of recording key points and action items.
  • Breakout sessions. For larger remote organizations, you’ll want to incorporate tools that enable smaller simultaneous group discussions; salient points can later be presented to or shared with the company at large.

How has your remote team reflected on its past work? Are there any suggestions you have or lessons learned that might help others?

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