Bitching and whining

I held today a training about our way of working for the future Team Leaders of the company and while talking about Retrospective, Corina gave me a very interesting question: “When the team gets into bitching and whining do you stop them? If so, when do you stop them? Isn’t it good to bitch and whine from time to time if it makes the team feel good?”.

And I answered that as a Team Leader or a meeting facilitator you need to have a purpose in mind: what do you want out of that meeting? When the meeting has an already established purpose, as out of the Retrospective you expect a set of action points in order to improve your next sprint, can you deviate from it for particular cases and have that as your “hidden” purpose?
And I stated that yes, sometimes is good to let the team have a moment of whining as long as it is made consciously and it does not become the norm. Maybe when you feel they the need, you can take them out to a beer to do that and still use the Retrospective efficiently.

And after around 4 hours the question still haunts me. Is it ok in an organized manner to encourage this behaviour and let it continue? Maybe it was your purpose in the beginning or it became your purpose during the meeting, but is it ok?
And nope, I now reconsider and it’s NOT ok. I think a clear statement should be made at that point and set back the focus to “let’s fix it and we’ll deal with the complaining later” ( in the most assertive manner, of course.)

Why? Because sometimes the leader gives the tone of the discussion, he can influence the energy and the attitude of the team and if he encourages in any manner the “complaining and not fixing things the proper way” he could create bit by bit, without knowing it, an unconstructive attitude which will slowly be taken to more situations than just Retrospective. And then one day it will go to the morning coffee, the next day it will go to lunch break, the other day it will conquer some meetings and so on. It might be cosy and gives you a good feeling that you can whine about the situation and you are heard, but it will surely not fix anything.
I can take it one step further and think that if the complaining would be about another person, like the PO, from simply complaining to gossiping, the road might be very short.

So, Corina, I take back my words! No, don’t let it happen. Help them snap out of it. It is better on a long run.

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