How Your Nonprofit Can Routinize Reflection | Beth's Blog

How Your Nonprofit Can Routinize Reflection

Capacity, Facilitation, Leadership, Learning, Meetings, Reflection

Reflection is a critical step in assessing individual and team performance at your nonprofit.  A reflective process, whether it is a structured process for individuals or groups, can give us insights about what worked and what could be improved.

Reflection requires hitting the pause button and asking and answering questions.  How many of us as individuals have the discipline to notice what we’re doing with our professional work or our team?  Our natural tendency is to keeping moving forward on the to do list, to forget, not to notice, or to be so caught up with our own world that we fail to be sensitive to the possibilities.  What works?  What doesn’t?  And most importantly what and where to improve or repeat what worked.

Many organizations skip reflection processes or only do it after a major event because it does not feel like checking something off your to do list or moving forward.   But, without this important step, we are doomed to repeating the same mistakes, over and over again.

But how to create a routine around reflection for yourself and at your nonprofit?   For individuals, it can be simple as keeping a journal, even a one-sentence a day journal or using the 18-minutes a day technique.    It is also important for your team or organization to create and use a habit of reflection as a group, but not just quarterly or after a major event, but as a regular routine that can drive organizational learning, transparency & cohesion.

Here are few ideas:

  • Build Into Recurring Meetings:    Add a permanent spot on the agenda of regular staff or team meetings for reflection.   Just like many meetings begin with introductions or sharing the agenda, make sure your ending includes a few minutes of reflection time.   This is different from summing up tasks and deadlines at the end of the meeting.  It is asking the simple question of how to improve a process, project, or even the meeting itself.
  • Use Simple Questions:   Cue up a couple of guiding questions to drive your reflective discussion or have staff members prepare them in advance as part of the pre-work.   A few examples of guiding questions;

-What worked well?
-What did we do really well that we don’t want to forget the next time we do this?
-What could be improved?
-What could we change?
-What didn’t we do that might have worked better?
-What did we learn?
-What surprised us?
-What still puzzles us?
-What questions are not yet answered?

  • Use A Structured Process like “After Action Review”:   One easy way to incorporate team reflection is to integrate a review process at the end of a project and include others from your organization not directly involved in the project. This is known as an “After Action Review” or “AAR.”  This is a structured way to capture the lessons learned from any project, with the intent of improving future performance. It is an opportunity for a group to reflect on a project, activity, event, or task so that they can do it better the next time. It can also be used mid-way through a project or strategy or at the end.

A structured process has a number of benefits.  It can get a lot of useful information out in a short amount of time.  It creates a safe space to share learning in a way that isn’t about pointing fingers or blaming (if facilitated in the right way).   It is also inclusive of different perspectives, from senior leadership to front line program people.   And, it dramatically reduces the internal echo-chamber where we restate each other’s points rather than generating new insights.

As part of the Emerging Leaders Playbook Toolkit, you can find an easy 30-60 minute recipe for conducting an After Action Review at your organization.    This process can be particularly useful for debriefing after a major event or strategy.

How does your nonprofit routinize reflection at staff meetings, after major projects, or in other ways? What techniques and methods have you used? What works?

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