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Reflective practice at work

Vicky Peel, Jan. 18, 2023

We are feeling optimistic about this coming year. As a wise Unboxeder recently said, “you can’t move forwards until you’ve looked back.” As we look forward to the year ahead we are thinking about the value of reflection: what’s gone well, what’s been a challenge and what we’ve learned. We don’t just reflect at the end of year though, we do it every month.

You can’t move forwards until you’ve looked back

It feels good to have a chat with a colleague. It’s a chance to download, catch up and get things off our chests! Having space to talk to someone trusted provides more than pleasant conversation though. The process of reflection offers so many benefits, both from a professional and a wellbeing perspective. In a fast paced world, it offers a stop, a rest, and time to reflect. This is not to be undervalued.

It’s also an opportunity to celebrate and identify positive experiences. Getting good feedback from a client or cracking a tricky problem feels good. It’s something to recognise and celebrate. And when things don’t go so well, it’s a chance to process and learn. Intentionally creating reflective opportunities is good for people and good for business.

We make sure it’s in the fabric of how we work and support each other at Unboxed.

Why is reflection good for our wellbeing?

Reflection provides space to offload and process challenging experiences. Holding on to something that’s been difficult allows resentment to build. That’s not productive for our relationships or our self confidence. Reflection provides space to identify positive experiences and ways to improve.

For some, focussing on the personal domain is most powerful. It helps us to focus on self awareness, strengths and weaknesses, thinking patterns or lifestyle. Research has found three functions of peer coaching (scanning, validating and sharing). These functions can help build self-awareness. The process in itself can be a source of psychological safety. Knowing someone is there to listen helps to reduce stress and anxiety. The value of someone having your back is not to be underestimated.

When we reflect, we have the opportunity to turn inward. To create some mental distance between experiences and our perspective on them. When we have higher wellbeing in our personal domains we are more likely to have greater wellbeing at work. If we can develop personal coping strategies and greater understanding of others we will be better team members and more resilient.

Peer-to-peer reflection in flat organisations

‘Flat’ organisations with less hierarchy often give high levels of autonomy to individuals. Research shows that high autonomy means greater engagement and increased motivation for employees. But it can also cause stress if people don’t feel they have the right resources to meet the demands placed on them. In flatter, self-managing organisations it can be harder to know how to get support or who to talk to.

Peer-to-peer reflection has gained some traction for professional and personal development. It can be particularly effective in less hierarchical structures. People often feel more comfortable being open with peers. They are also happier to share knowledge, skills and wellbeing issues.

In a busy environment, it’s not always easy to keep track of our activities and accomplishments. When there’s an imminent project deadline time for reflection can easily move to the bottom of the to do list. But it’s so important for our development and there are lots of creative ways we can do it. Some research has looked at how 'conversational agents’ - a form of interactive voice or chat based interaction with employees can support a regular reflective practice.

There are other challenges too. Not everyone finds the reflection process comfortable. And it relies on those leading the session to engage in active listening and facilitate with kindness and authentic curiosity. Active listening is a skill that can be learnt and is worth investing in. We use it so often on projects working with multidisciplinary teams, we should be using it with each other too.

Reflection as a process

You can draw the greatest value from reflection by repeating the process regularly. Building a mindset and habit of reflection is hard, but it helps us to build a library of reflection on our experiences, adding value by strengthening skills and habits, enhanced learning, self awareness and becoming more purposeful. At the end of the year we can look back and see what we enjoyed, what we achieved and the challenges we overcame.

Setting achievable and meaningful goals is an integral part of the reflection process. Goal setting helps us with our long term vision and short term motivation. It can help us focus on how we gain knowledge, think about what skills we want to develop or where we want to be in the future. Achieving the things we want to achieve has a positive effect on our self confidence, self esteem and wellbeing.

How we use reflection at Unboxed

Care and attention, healthier relationships and continuous improvement are 3 of our core Unboxed values. I think that these values are lived out in the process of giving everyone at Unboxed the opportunity to have a monthly reflective practice. We’ve created personal reflection boards which shape the retrospective process; checking in on our motivation, sense of value, acknowledgement of others, goals and actions.

Example of a reflection board

As a small company we have to be adaptable to the needs of our clients and projects. But our people are who make Unboxed. Ensuring they have time to build a purposeful practice of reflection supports both their professional and personal wellbeing.