The Focus On Focus Off Retrospective Tool

Alex Vernik
Alex Vernik
Engineering Ops Specialist
Posted on
Dec 6, 2021
Updated on
Jun 19, 2022
Table of Content

The power of suggestion can be really impactful and useful in the beginnings of group discourse to set the stage and make sure perspective is in focus.  

What Is the Focus On Focus Off Retrospective?

The Focus On Focus Off is a retrospective idea that speaks to focusing on positive and constructive feedback, while keeping the focus off of points of blame or combative communication styles. 

The Focus On Focus Off strategy is great to implement before the Retrospective. It consists of a short phrase that frames the desired mindset for the meeting. 

The phrase is as follows:

"Inquiry rather than advocacy,

Dialog instead of debate,

Conversation rather than arguments,

And understanding instead of defending".

Addressing these alternative collaborative styles at the beginning of the retrospective meeting ensures that team members are going to be attentive to delivery and how they make others feel. Thoughtfulness and discernment of semantics are so important to efficient communication and healthy workplace culture. 

The phrases may seem a bit redundant (dialog/conversation, debate/arguments, etc), but the sentiment is still framing a clear goal of compassion and active listening.


When Can This Strategy be Used?

The Focus On Focus Off retrospective strategy can be used at the beginning of each Retrospective in order to remind members to be constructive and kind or at any point of contention in any meeting/group activity. It can even be applied to parenting, relationships, or day-to-day conflict. 

Who Is This Tool For?

The Focus On Focus Off retrospective is for everyone attending meetings– meaning everyone who's been part of the development process of the project being addressed. 

The Focus On Focus off retrospective is highly effective for antagonistic team members who are quick to point fingers of blame for project downfalls or obstinate people who have a hard time accepting different viewpoints. Sometimes setting the boundaries of what will be tolerated and what won't be is enough to set the tone for the meeting.  

What Makes This Retrospective Effective?

Focus On Focus Off means just that; focus-shifting behavior. Our brains tend to keep recent things more relevant and readily at hand. When this mantra is stated, folks are more likely to apply it directly to the conversations that follow. 

The power of suggestion is one incredible phenomenon, and even beyond that, the requested conversational framework is really quite reasonable to begin with. Once members read the statement they're likely to resonate with it and make the effort to fulfill it. It's there to inspire perspective, challenge current behaviors, and prompt productive interaction. 

How to Generally Execute the Focus On Focus Off Retrospective Tool?

The Focus On Focus Off retrospective tool works best with a little exercise attached, pre-Retrospective. To do this you should:

  • Read the Focus On Focus Off mantra altogether. 
  • Form small groups of 2-4 team members. Each group will focus on one line of the quote. ("Ex: dialog vs. debate)
  • Have them talk amongst each other about what each word means, what the differences between them are, what they look like in action, and why one is more effective than the other in this setting. 
  • Repeat this with all 4 sets of words (all 4 lines of the quote).
  • Groups discuss with the room what they've uncovered about each set of words. 

This exercise helps because the sets of words are very similar in definition, but it's in the key differences that the effectiveness is found. Non-linguists may not naturally discern between these words and behaviors and so centering conversation around the small differences that make understanding more effective than defensiveness, for example, is poignant. Outlining what they look like in action is even more promising.

How to Outline A Focus On Focus Off Reference In GoRetro 

GoRetro is such a handy platform to host virtual Retrospectives and the elements that precede and follow them, like the Focus On Focus Off exercise. 

Team members will collectively join the platform, dashboard, and finally the chosen template base (ideally a neutral 4 column retrospective template). Each column will be created with a line from the mantra (2 opposing words). 

Members can comment below each category elaborating what they mean, look like, and how they differ. They can support each other's views with up-votes and give the philosophy actualized context (examples of what employees prefer according to the philosophy).

GoRetro online retro tool also allows leaders to customize elements, assign actionable tasks with due dates, and organize and manage many different components of their virtual meetings. All the while, the platform records every meeting for future reference! Forget taking minutes in stuffy boardrooms! 

Check out GoRetro and its cool features here, for free! 

For extra reading - check out the below retrospective formats and activity ideas:

Sailboat retrospective - a 4 columns retrospective also known as the pirate ship retrospective
Lean coffee format - an agenda less more fluid retrospective format that motivates team members and make things more productive
Prime directive retrospective idea - a great way to create a retrospective meeting with an atmosphere of empathy and understanding
Retrospective what went well - The most popular retro format focusing on the basics of what went well and what didn't regarding the last sprint the team had ran.


About the author

Alex Vernik
Engineering Ops Specialist

Engineering leader, passionate about coding products and value creation. Vast experience with managing R&D teams at various scales. Embracing innovation and transformation for constant improvement.

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