In my current project team, I try to encourage an open atmosphere and discussions. In general, I have the impression that we are on a good road in that regard.

The idea of a post-mortem after each iteration was well received, except for one colleague who refuses to express opinion when asked for the first time. Common responses might include "I may not say" or "this is not important now". I think it is important to add that I experience him as quite introverted a person in general, and that this might simply reflect his personality. At the same time, I'm very convinced that actually he is willing to improve things, and that he does have something to say. Several times I got quite constructive responses already, once I was pushing (i.e., 'Indeed I do think it is important, please share your thoughts' or something like that).

I'm wondering what makes him feel so uncomfortable about openly telling what he thinks right away. I really hope I've demonstrated several times already that there is nothing bad to be expected from honest and constructive feedback.

Maybe he also thinks that entire discussion is for naught. However, from my point of view they are the best way of discussing what went wrong this time and thus improving in the future.

This way or the other, the key question is: Should I insist on getting some feedback, with the best intention of improving something both for him, the rest of the team and the client, or rather accept that somebody is not willing to share his thoughts?

Of course, I could never avoid that anybody just says 'all fine for me', but I strongly feel that once somebody expresses that he has something to say, he also should do so instead of holding back.

4 Answers 4


As a manager you should be clear with your team what you expect from them, and support them in working up to these expectations. You can't force someone to talk, but you can encourage them and remove barriers that stop them from contributing.

I would have an open and frank discussion, one-on-one, with your team member about this. Don't try to guess why he's not contributing, and ask him how he feels about it and what may stop him from contributing, or what would need to be done differently to get him to share his thoughts. Once you understand from him what the issue is, you will be able to address it. The other thing I would tell him is that his holding back is impacting the team as you are missing out on helpful improvements, and that his contribution could have a really good impact on everyone. Show him the value he can bring.

  • Like that idea. I agree that asking about the 'why' is always more favorable than asking. Also your last sentence cannot be highlighted enough. Thank you!
    – bonifaz
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 17:21

There is a prevalent, systemic culture that affects many organizations and institutions where honesty is not appreciated or awarded. Even when there is a published open door policy, there really isn't. Sadly, I think a true open environment is more of the exception than the rule as it takes strong, confident leaders to be able to open themselves up to scrutiny that postmortems require. Over time, it has been taught and we have learned quite well that honest communication in an open forum is not likely to be met without consequences.

In fact, I think there is some logic to that. If you open the door for criticisms of leadership and leadership decisions, you are exposing the possibility of losing authority and respect and increasing the likelihood of your future decisions to being challenged.

If you want real honest feedback from someone who you think can give it, go behind closed doors and do it one on one. Otherwise, expect some who will remain silent, others who will provide only a$$ kissing feedback, and still others who will carefully spin their words to the point where the feedback does not offer much value.

  • 2
    Not everyone likes speaking in a group. Strongly recommend getting feedback in private or anonymously in addition to public settings. However, I would recommend insisting on some sort of feedback, though.
    – SBWorks
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 8:49
  • David, do I understand correctly that you don't think it is possible at all to get honest feedback in an discussion round with the whole group? I made good experiences with the rest of the group (of course, I never know whether the are telling full truth), there is mainly one colleague I'm struggling with.
    – bonifaz
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 17:18
  • @SBWorks, thanks for recommendation. Particularly like your approach of both public and sometimes also private settings.
    – bonifaz
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 17:20
  • @bonifaz, no not at all. I think you can get honest feedback; there are some that are not concerned of the consequences and there are leaders who are confident enough to withstand the likely embarrassment of some of the feedback. I think it is a challenging facilitated event, where both sides have to be a bit careful. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 18:10

On a totally different note, I have never like the word "post-mortem" for post iteration discussions. Literal translation is "occurring after death". Did your project die? Often the very wording of our meetings can induce negative view points or comments from individuals in attendance.

"Retrospective's" on the other hand should be look forward to by the team as it's an opportunity to tune the team's engine and adjust behavior.

A little off topic but wanted to mention it.


First I suggest you rename this stage end activity to Lessons Learnt.

Whether the project went well or not this is an invaluable activity so is worth a little effort. That said it differs from company to company and culture to culture.

It's Official: First make it an official project task, you need to send out the message that this is not optional and everyone's input is expected. The level of detail and in some cases they may have little to add but you need to get everyone's input.

What you are looking for: If you state your request as "lessons for future projects" it is more constructive and people are more inclined to respond. It also gets away from the blame culture, especially on difficult projects

More of Less off: You need to get a balanced response, I recommend you ask your team to frame their response in terms of What would we do next time, What would we not do.

Publish Finally publish your learnings. Let everyone know their input was valued and senior management know processes are improving.

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