In the Agile retrospective, are negative comments a bad thing? In other words, should we only allow positive comments in the retrospective?
Negative comments in the Agile retrospective are not bad. They are opportunities for discussion, agreement and improvement. By allowing only positive comments, you're avoiding issues, and avoidance prevents the team from growing and developing.
Negative comments should be allowed in the Agile retrospective when they are phrased professionally. A team that is forming and growing but can't be honest with one another has a problem. Avoiding issues is not going to help team development.
By allowing only positive comments, you're avoiding issues, and avoidance keeps the team from growing and developing.
I have been on a team where we've had comments that point out how people sometimes ignore professional etiquettes and talk over each other in meetings so that the loudest person is the only one who is heard. The majority of the team members were guilty of not allowing others to finish speaking. We were in such a hurry to have our thoughts heard that we were interrupting each other.
When this comment came up, it wasn't pointed toward anyone in particular but at the team as a whole. We realized it applied to all of us. If your team members have negative comments, just ensure they are not personal but are constructive for the whole team.
A team that has more than one member is going to generate negative comments; that's human nature. As long as comments are directed at the team or even a role, then I think that is constructive. If comments in the Agile retrospective become attacks against specific individuals, then I'd suggest taking the folks involved aside and helping them resolve their conflict.
If you need to involve human resources, then do it. Any personal issues need to be resolved one way or the other before the team can grow together. But ignoring all negative items is not the way to develop a solid, high-functioning team.
This was first published in May 2014