A new approach to the rose, bud, thorn tool using I-statements to foster more constructive and inclusive feedback from team members.

This week’s blog post is by Joanne Moore

As we close out 2023 and look forward to 2024, all sorts of media are providing a look back. Even my smartphone somehow generates a slideshow of pictures from the year. Funnily enough, some of those pictures capture awkward moments that I didn’t curate out of my files. We learn so much by spending a little time reflecting on what’s happened and what lies ahead.

In the same way, we learn quite a bit by conducting a retrospective exercise for our work—whether at the end of a project, or at some other milestone point. The beauty of a retrospective is the ability to provide thoughtful, critical and constructive feedback so we can learn and grow from the experience. The most common innovation tool to conduct a simple retrospective is called “rose, bud, thorn” (RBT) and asks what went well, what are the possibilities, and what are the pain points.  The RBT framework is time-tested, but sometimes it can spark controversy or be off-putting for some participants.

I recently had several opportunities to use an alternative to RBT that asks participants to complete sentences beginning with “I like, I wish, and I wonder.” This means of providing feedback tended to avoid assigning blame with “you” statements and concentrated instead on how the individual providing the feedback felt about the issue at hand. For example, “You were having meetings without including me” became “I like to be invited to all the meetings please”, and “This activity did not go well became “I wish this activity had gone better.”  The I wonder statements ask about possibilities, turning “we should do it that way next time” into “I wonder if it would be better to try it that way”.

These statements provided outlets for how people felt, how they would have rather seen the situation handled, and for what could work as a different approach. Thus, these questions arrive at the same outcome—a constructive list of what went well, what are the pain points, and what are the possibilities for the future. So next time your team is ready for a retrospective, try these three questions to get inclusive, constructive responses from the entire team.