In need of a powerful, but simple process that finetunes your business’s workflow processes and increases productivity? Conducting a regular start stop continue retrospective is a great option for CEOs and executives in charge of leading teams. Working through this method helps leaders take a moment with their employees to reflect on where the company has been, is currently at, and wants to go. Not only is it a great team-building exercise, but it is also an important part of developing an effective organizational strategy. By identifying what’s missing, what’s broken, and what’s working, business leaders can refine their strategic initiatives to be more in alignment with their overall vision.
Below, find out more about what the start stop continue retrospective is and how to use it so you can facilitate your first meeting using this method.
What is the Start Stop Continue Method?
Start stop continue is an action-oriented, proactive technique teams use to increase the effectiveness and productiveness of their workflow processes. When leaders facilitate this method, they meet with team members to discuss how the business can improve the actions the company takes to fulfill its mission. This happens through brainstorming actions, grouping ideas, voting, and discussing agreed upon priorities.
This exercise for start stop continue does not require any type of project management software, although there are several companies that offer it. Many business owners use Excel, Google Sheets, a whiteboard, or a printout when adopting this particular method. Simply mark three columns “start,” “stop,” “continue” (from left to right) on the digital or physical resource used to conduct the meeting.
You don’t need project management software for the start stop continue technique. Many basic programs and simple materials will work.
Who’s It For?
Any person in charge of leading a team can facilitate a start stop continue meeting to increase their direct reports’ productivity. This includes CEOs, directors, managers, and team leaders. While this exercise does need someone to lead the meeting, it also requires team participation. This means the start stop continue method cannot be completed independently by one person. For this reason, there must be at the very least two people present during the meeting. In terms of how many people can join in on this ideation for implementation session, it depends on the number of employees the facilitator feels comfortable hosting. For example, if you have a team of 50, but can’t manage this many ideas in one meeting, only meet with your top 10 key players.
Start Stop Continue Examples
The start stop continue method is most effective when leaders are in a state of review. For instance, this could look like an executive monitoring the success of a project, person, program, or product. As they look back, it’s a good time to contemplate what should change or stay the same.
Another example would be changing procedures after an unsuccessful product launch. This is the perfect time to work through start stop continue exercise to improve the next launch and prevent mistakes from occurring again.
Aside from using the start stop continue template as a problem-solving technique, you can also use it when reviewing:
- Project success
- Current processes
- Employee evaluations
- Team effectiveness
- Leadership performance
How to Facilitate the Ideation Process
Now that you understand what the start stop continue retrospective is, who it’s for, and when to use it, it’s time to dive deeper into each section of the process. Once a leader reviews what each column represents, they can then guide their team to begin the ideation phase using the information below. Although, it’s important to note when introducing start stop and continue, inform the team to wait until further instruction to share their thoughts. This part of the process is only designed to assist in brainstorming and the formation of creative ideas. During this time, ask the team to write their ideas down. Next, begin working through the steps of start stop continue listed below with the group.
1. Start Doing What’s Missing
Start or “what’s missing” is the place to begin by discussing what parts of a process fall short and suggestions for fixing them. For instance, this might include adding a quality control check if a company regularly receives product returns. In addition to problem-solving, this is a great time to ideate on growth. To do this, a facilitator can briefly summarize new objectives and gather insight from team members on what the company can do to achieve these measures.
Get the conversation flowing by asking:
- “What are the obvious gaps our business needs to fill?”
- “How would you do this?”
- “If you were in charge of scaling this organization, what would be your next move?”
- “What opportunities do you see our company currently missing out on?”
Ask each person at the meeting to provide feedback and give three to five solid ideas. Then, have them share what they came up with after everyone has worked through all three steps.
2. Stop Making the Same Mistakes
Once you’ve gone through Start, move on to Stop or “what’s broken” sprint. This part of the process allows group members to converse about what isn’t working for the business. For example, is marketing a poorly performing product taking too much time, energy, and money away from the business? When the team ideates and works through issues like this, it helps shed light on what the business must stop doing to maximize its revenue and impact.
The focus of this conversation should be eliminating tasks and objectives that don’t make the best use of the team’s time and talents. It can also be an opportunity to discuss actions the business takes that don’t serve customers in a significant way. Additionally, the Stop column determines what to phase out over time.
Kickstart the discussion with the following questions:
- “What is hurting the company?”
- “What is the top error you notice the business making time and time again?”
- “If you had to eliminate one company initiative, what would it be and why?”
- “What is one thing the business focuses on heavily, but doesn’t produce a large ROI?”
This section requires serious thought before implementation, as it can deeply affect other team members. Before making tough decisions like this, always consult with the department or person who this choice will affect. It could be possible those in the meeting aren’t aware of why the team appears to be less productive or ineffective. Take the time to ask questions about why the discussed action isn’t working. While you want to avoid making the same mistakes, you also want to practice employee retention.
3. Continue What’s Working
Finally, the last stage of the start stop continue process is reviewing “what’s working” in the Continue column. Jumpstart this conversation by recapping some of the company’s most recent successes. During this time, also take a moment to communicate genuine appreciation and recognition for the team and all of their hard work. It’s great to end the process here because it allows the team to celebrate wins and inspires them to keep the momentum going.
Invite the team to keep the positive vibes flowing by asking:
- “What actions are we taking that have proven to be successful?”
- “Where are we most valuable?”
- “What can we not afford to lose?”
- “If we were to throw a party, what would it be for?”
- “Who do you want to celebrate, and why?”
Again, ask the team to only independently ideate on these questions right now. The following step reveals how these ideas are shared and how a leader determines which brainstormed actions should be implemented into the company’s strategy.
4. Share, Prioritize, and Discuss Ideas
After facilitating the ideation sprint, it’s time to let the team voice their ideas. During this time, the facilitator should be operating the drawing board. This could be a whiteboard for in-office meetings. For those managing remote teams, mimic the start stop continue feedback template in Google sheets or Trello board and share your screen. Begin with the Start column, asking the group to share the various actions and activities they came up with for this section. Next, move on to Stop. Then, finally, gather all the ideas for Continue.
As each individual shares their thoughts, look for duplicate ideas, and group them together when possible. If five people mention the same action, it’s likely to become a high priority on the list. Make note of commonalities by putting an asterisk beside the ideas that seem to resonate the most with the group.
By this stage, everyone’s thoughts should be on the table. It’s now time to start the process of prioritizing which specific actions will move forward in the process. When dot voting during the start stop continue process, each person gets three votes. They can use their vote on one entire column, or disperse their vote across the board. This is done by marketing a dot or “X” next to the three separate actions they feel the company should focus upon.
The final part of the process is discussing the results of the dot votes. First, go through each column and see which actions received the most votes. Next, organize the start, stop, and continue buckets in a way that puts the actions in order from most to least votes. If two ideas tie, list them one after the other and let the group decide which one is more important. In this way you create an action plan you can follow.
After ranking the votes, set a 20-minute time limit for discussing each section. During this time, team members will need to talk about why these are the business’s top priorities. Aside from understanding the “Why,” leaders and team members need to talk about the “How,” meaning how to implement these actions into the company’s workflow process. As the team converses, the facilitator should take notes and start developing a plan for implementation.
Before adjourning the meeting, everyone should know which actions and activities they’re starting, stopping, and continuing. In addition to this, employees should be aware of what role these tasks play in improving the business, who’s involved in making the listed measures happen, and the plan for achieving these responsibilities. Moreover, leaders should let the team know when any changes discussed in the meeting will be seen in the project management app the company uses. It’s important the key takeaways from the discussion become visible in the company’s work management system as soon as possible. This solidifies the refinement of the business’s workflow processes and shows the benefit of start stop continue feedback.
The Importance of Practicing Start Stop Continue
As Richard L. Evans has noted, “We need the courage to start and continue what we should do, and courage to stop what we shouldn’t do.” This process of reflection, improvement, and refinement helps leaders create, eliminate, and keep doing the actions and activities that secure a promising future for the company and its employees. Without doing so, the business fails to operate with intention. When people stop operating with intention, the company stops leading with it’s Why—it’s purpose for existing. And when a business doesn’t operate from its heart, employees become disengaged, customers lose interest, and leaders drift further and further away from fulfilling their mission.
As John C. Maxwell states in his business podcast, “Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow is going to get better . . . If you’re going to grow, and if I’m going to grow, we’re going to grow intentionally.” Exercises like the start stop continue analysis help leaders become intentional about never losing sight of fulfilling the purpose of the company. It’s a simple way to stay on track that only takes an hour out of your day every few months, so why not try this method used for growing with intent?
For more inspiration and lessons from John C. Maxwell, find one of his many helpful books to read. You can check out a list from the following article:
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- Langat, A. (n.d.). Start, Stop, Continue Feedback: Examples and Usage – Highrise. https://www.tryhighrise.com/blog-posts/start-stop-continue-feedback-examples-usage
- Mcc, D. S. (n.d.). Start-Stop-Continue: An Easy Leadership Feedback Survey. www.linkedin.com. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/start-stop-continue-easy-leadership-feedback-survey-schilder-mcc/
- Podcast, J. M. L. (n.d.). The Law of Intentionality – John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. https://johnmaxwellleadershippodcast.com/episodes/john-maxwell-the-law-of-intentionality
- Trello. (n.d.). https://trello.com/c/5D6rpRIW/28-dot-voting-start-stop-continue
- Van Edwards, V. (2022). Stop, Start, Continue: The Single Best Team Building Exercise. Science of People. https://www.scienceofpeople.com/start-stop-continue/