In projects for my clients, I regularly do retrospectives to reflect and improve our work. I also facilitate them. Usually, in a retrospective, you ask the following questions: what was good, what was bad, what needs to improve. I introduced and experimented with the „Celebration Grid“ in my retrospective. Many people say we should celebrate mistakes. Others say we should only celebrate failures. But when you focus on success you may tend to repeat standard practices repeatedly without learning any new things or innovating new practices.
The Celebration Grid is a Management 3.0 practice. It shows that failure and success are both needed for learning and to maximize the understanding of problems. By using this practice teams can focus on learnings regardless of the outcome: where we can celebrate the good practices, which result from a positive outcome and where we learned something from our failures.
The following image shows the Management 3.0 Celebration Grid:
How I used the Celebration Grid
I tried out the Celebration Grid with a project team at a client. There were eight people in the team – project manager, learning and development L&D consultants, digital workplace consultant, software development/technical support, and me as an external consultant (I also facilitated the retrospective). We developed a new digital learning platform and introduced a new method for workplace learning in the enterprise. The development of the platform was outsourced. This was an internal retrospective with the team from my client.
As we did our retrospective only remotely during the corona pandemic, I created a Mural Board with the Celebration Grid.
Example Mural Board:
I introduced the Celebration Grid for our retrospective and explained why this practice would allow a deeper discussion than in the traditional retrospective. The team was a bit hesitant to start the discussion.
As a facilitator, I was afraid to may have participation challenges in the group because people had to come out of their comfort zone. There are 6 areas on the Celebration Grid we had to work out:
- Practices with a good outcome
- Practices with a bad outcome
- Experiments that succeed
- Experiments that failed
- Mistakes that were lucky
- Mistakes that were real failures
In the first round, I asked the group to focus first on the practices with a good outcome because this was a similar approach like in the traditional retrospective – „what was good“. Each in the team should write down all the good practices they could think of in the last weeks and put their sticky notes on the Mural board. After discussing, I asked them to focus on the grid with practices with a bad outcome “What didn’t work well?” because they also were comfortable with this from the retrospective. It was important to get the discussion started. I learned that people have to be engaged from the beginning on, then they will be also engaged in the further progress when it gets more difficult for them to reflect.
For the other grids, I thought of letting everybody chose freely a grid to think of things. But then I changed my approach. I assigned a grid number to every left grid and gave everybody a different grid number to cover the grids:
- (3) Experiments that succeed
- (4) Experiments that failed
- (5) Mistakes that were lucky
- (6) Mistakes that were real failures
The numbers 1 and 2 were the good practices we already went through.
Two people should work out one grid. I gave every group some time to work on the grid. Then the groups changed the numbers. This led to more engagement because they have to focus on one grid and then discuss their findings with the group. The team gave the feedback it was easier for them as they saw the findings from the groups before and could better reflect.
The groups should answer the following questions to help them to focus on the positive outcome, and not only to focus on failed things and think about learning, not about success or failure.
- Where did we learn something by experimenting with new things?
- How can we reward positive behaviour according to the Celebration Grid? What did we do well?
After the groups finished, we discussed the results with the team. We rated our different remote work practices as good experiments which we will improve. We also tried out new online workshop formats that worked very well.
We put identified actions and tasks in a backlog to work on them in the future.
We also used the Mural Board with the Celebration Grid in daily business after the retrospective to make observations if the team tuns enough experiments and is learning new practices. For sharing and celebrating good practices, we created an extra channel in our Microsoft Teams for the project.
The project team reacted positively to the celebration grid. Some team members said first they felt a bit challenged going out of their comfort zone. But the practice helped to change their mindset from concentrating on failure and success to one of learning, continuously improve things, and become more courageous to experiment with new practices. There was no blaming or judging other people for failure and mistakes as we sometimes had in former retrospective because we only focused on outcomes to solve future problems. In general, they liked the structured approach to identify all practices that happened.
My experiences and key learnings
- By using the Celebration Grid you focus on experiments, not on mistakes. This gave us another and a better understanding of failures.
- We had a deeper discussion about what happened than only using the general retrospective questions.
- As a facilitator always remind the team to not judge or punish experiments that failed, and always to identify learnings and improvements.
- The celebration grid lets people out of their comfort zone. It is important to get the discussion started. People who are engaged at the beginning will participate more during the process.
- I recommend assigning the different grids to people/groups for identifying the practices and not let them run freely. This reduces participation challenges. I would do this again.
- Give people concrete questions to help them to reflect on the things that happened.
- As a facilitator, I will think of more questions connected to actions in the daily business like “Remember when this happened…” to support the team to reflect even better. This should be at a team level to not expose a single person. In the next retrospective, I will use our new celebration team channel to remind everybody of the good practices.
- In daily business, the Celebration Grid helped us to create an environment that allows us to experiment and changing routines. People are now more confident to try out new things and share them because we do not focus on the outcomes but on the learnings.
- I recommended to the team to time-box the experiments to quickly evaluate if an experiment will be a success or not to make decisions on investments or stop an experiment at small costs. We have to get better to identify the experiments with a good outcome, and not to focus too long on those with a bad outcome.