How Does Reflective Practice Make Someone More Agile?

23 Jun 2022

My daughter’s just beginning to read and write, so I spend a lot of time reflecting on the origin of words and their multiple meanings, before deciding how to explain why her teacher’s phonics lessons don’t apply to far too many English words.

For now, my daughter only needs to know that “reflecting” is what mirrors and shiny surfaces like windows do.

Quite a lot of the time I get asked why a word is spelt that way and I’m curious enough to find out whether it’s a word the English have borrowed from Greek, Latin, or many of the languages that invaded the UK at various times, but I’ve simplified that to “English is a mix of languages and that word is just spelt like that”. Then I reflect on other parenting styles that I’ve seen and experienced and consider whether I should handle questions differently. Reflecting on parenting skills, or any other skill, is a continuous process.

Reflective practice might be more accurately called introspection, because we aren’t literally looking in a mirror, which would only show us the surface anyway. We’re looking inwards and considering our knowledge, experience and behaviour. This is invaluable, even in the best agile workplace where we’re encouraged to pause for thought and reflect.  If we never step back and think deeply, we end up being reactive.

The reason I say “even in the best” is because thinking in a group, under time pressure, doesn’t produce deep learning in an individual. It’s effective for quick “lesson learned” moments in an agile team, but rarely examines what was going on inside various individuals’ heads and how that contributed to a situation. People need space to go away and think at their own pace, in order to come back with more detailed reflection, because that makes more agile individuals, who form a more agile team.

Whether you choose reflection or introspection, the most important part of the process is not to dwell on the negatives of any challenges or mistakes, but to learn from them. We could review our decisions in a dispassionate light. For example:

Was that the right decision, based on what I knew at the time?

As mentioned in the Retrospective Prime Directive, it’s important to bear in mind that you might not have had all the information that’s available now. The purpose of reflecting on decisions is to make sure the decision-making process was sound.

Were any assumptions made?

This is worth thinking about, to establish whether more information could have become available earlier, if anyone had identified assumptions.

Were they reasonable?

It would be reasonable to assume that a volcano won’t erupt in Paris, but less reasonable to assume it won’t in Hawaii, so some assumptions are forgivable.

How could I have identified unreasonable assumptions and eradicated them?

This could be a moment to think about how rigorous everyone’s planning is when they’re starting a piece of work, or a prompt to improve communications between multiple people.

Were the right people involved at the right time?

If not, why not? How can I avoid that?

What could I do next time, to reduce mistakes?

This could be a simple checklist, or become a more complicated solution.

How might other people have perceived the situation? Could that have affected their behaviour? This question is useful if you catch yourself thinking someone is being irrational or unreasonable. It might not always be possible to ask what caused their behaviour, but you can try to give the benefit of the doubt.

How did I perceive the situation? Are there alternative explanations for what I saw? When you can’t explain someone else’s behaviour, it’s always worth checking yourself.

Has this highlighted any knowledge and skills I need to gain?

This question is particularly useful when personal development plans or training are being discussed.

Is there anything I could have done more quickly, or delegated more effectively?

Nobody likes to think of themselves as micromanaging or failing to delegate, but it can be difficult to let go and is something to think about.

Are there factors outside of my control, that I had to compensate for, or could compensate for in future?

Even the best planning can be derailed by world events, by changes in the legal or financial environment that you operate in, or individuals who are difficult to work with. It’s up to individuals to decide whether they wish to take a pragmatic approach and work around any issues, or be proactive and make a change.

Is there anything about this project or situation that I think is unresolved?

I’ve added this broad question because all of the others focus on specific items, almost like a checklist. But when we blindly follow a checklist, we might miss something that we didn’t think to include. In this case I would suggest enjoying some quiet reflection and let the ideas come to you.

If you’d like to look at Continuing Professional Development, which relies on reflective practice to be effective, please see our FAQs here.

Professional members of the Agile Business Consortium are encouraged to plan, do and reflect, because being more agile is an ongoing process! Find out more to become a professional member.