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Progress through reflective practice
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Reflective Practice

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Like most individuals, organizations fail to hit the mark exactly as envisioned, on a regular basis. The pace and complexity of our world mean most projects are filled with moving targets. Teams do their best to plan and anticipate setbacks, largely based on prior experience. In some instances, a team will fall completely flat and land nowhere near the target. This is typically because the team does not engage in reflective practice.

We All Want Success

No one gets out of bed hoping to perform worse today than yesterday. The way to move forward is to do more of what’s getting us positive results and to correct what’s not working. Improvement occurs as we identify areas of success and opportunity and make adjustments that will get us closer to the intended outcome.

Reflective practice is a process of deliberately pausing, scrutinizing the details of our progress or an outcome, and determining future actions. This process works for individuals and teams. To be effective, there must be a commitment to improvement and the reflective practice itself.

Make Reflection a Priority

Scheduling the pause is one way to ensure reflective practice is prioritized. For some individuals, reflective practice is built into their daily routine. This keeps both progress and specific outcomes top of mind, so learning and adjustment is continuous. For teams, intentional reflection might occur on a quarterly or weekly basis. It might also be scheduled after all major team events or projects. This type of regular reflection following the completion of specific activities has been adopted by various organizations and might also be referred to as After Action Review (military), SWOT Analysis, Autopsy (Collins, 2001, Good to Great), or Project Post-mortem. The key is to develop a timing and process habit that makes reflective practice most effective for moving individuals and teams to higher levels of success.

Reflective Practice in 6 Steps

Gather Documentation & Data

It is important to be focused and clear when engaging in individual or team reflection. Review of documentation and data related to the intended outcome ensure an accurate assessment of progress and associated actions. Ask team members to provide data, if actions were owned by specific individuals.

Review Intended Outcome & Actual Outcome

Start the official reflection by recording the intended outcome. Refer to past documentation, to ensure accuracy, when needed. Then, record the actual outcome or progress made.

Start with What’s Working

Identify and record factors that have had the greatest impact on forward movement or achievement of the intended outcome. Determine and record WHY those factors have contributed to progress. Deliberate consideration of the “why” is valuable when determining future actions, as it often reveals information about processes that can be replicated.

Identify Areas of Opportunity

Identify and record factors that have had a negative impact on progress. Determine and record WHY those factors have resulted in setbacks. The discussion of the “why” as it relates to barriers and lack of progress creates clarity for process improvement or strategic shifts that might follow the reflection. It is important to be honest and accurately identify the barriers.

Determine Action Steps

Reflective practice is intended to provide an individual or team with information and direction for next steps that will lead to achievement of goals. The discussion of what’s working and areas of opportunity supports identification of solid action steps. Prioritize or narrow the list of action steps, if needed. We experience greater levels of success when we focus on the 1-3 action steps that have the most potential to positively impact outcomes. Record the action steps for improvement, including timelines and owners.


Communicating the action steps for improvement serves two purposes: (a) it holds the individual or team accountable, and (b) it creates clarity for expected change or action. When we engage in reflective practice, identify action steps, and fail to communicate to those impacted, we create confusion and misalignment. Building in the communication step after reflective practice fosters commitment and trust in the direction we’re headed and what is needed to get there.

Plus/Delta & Why

A plus/delta tool can also aid in reflective practice. When using this tool, it is important to ensure you capture WHY each factor is a plus or a delta. The why is critical in deciding the best next steps.