How to Run a Retrospective Your Team Can Get Excited About

In order to keep your team retrospectives productive in the long-term, there are a couple of proven tactics you can use as a facilitator (but also as a team member). To make sure your team is excited for this meeting and you’re leading the team down the path of actionable takeaways, keep these following best practices at bay when you are planning or hosting your upcoming retrospectives. 

Colleen Johnson

October 7, 2021
4 mins

When Agile ways of working first emerged in knowledge work, development teams were, honestly and truly, thrilled about hosting their recurring retrospective meetings. In traditional ways of working, teams had, sadly, become accustomed to keeping up the pace of work and never stepping back to reflect on the way they were actually working together. 

Retrospectives arrived on the scene to change all of that. They became the forum through which team members could voice concerns, celebrate successes and propose ideas for future improvements. 

However, somewhere down the line, as team retrospectives became a more and more intrinsic part of Agile processes, even outside of IT… they lost some of their charm. Many of the best practices that governed successful team retrospectives got dropped along the way and, for many teams, retrospectives became just a slot in the calendar. 

In order to keep your team retrospectives productive in the long-term, there are a couple of proven tactics you can use as a facilitator (but also as a team member). To make sure your team is excited for this meeting and you’re leading the team down the path of actionable takeaways, keep these following best practices at bay when you are planning or hosting your upcoming retrospectives. 


Give Your Team the Tools to Prepare

There are a number of ways to ensure your teams feels prepared for upcoming retrospectives in their calendar. With calendars chock full of meetings, syncs, connects and check-ins, most team members benefit from receiving a short retro agenda before the event itself. The agenda should cover:


  • The format the facilitator plans to use during the meeting
  • The duration of the reflection
  • Time allocated for open discussion
  • Understanding whether capacity for action items will be allocated in the upcoming sprint
  • What types of questions the team should have in mind as they enter the meeting


To make the best use of the scheduled time, team members might appreciate understanding the retrospective format as well as the focal topic, if such will be surfaced. This approach gives team members a chance to feel connected to the retro, its structure and arrive prepared, instead of being caught off-guard. 


Act on the Takeaways 

Without follow-up, the insights generated during a retrospective meeting can lose their value quickly after the team connects. To make sure the team respects the retrospective and looks forward to the outcomes it can result in, facilitators have a responsibility to the team to ensure actionable next steps are articulated, assigned owners and supported over the course of the next team sprint.

Ideally, tasks related to process improvement accumulated from the team’s conversations during retrospectives will make their way into the team’s next sprint commitment. Although allocating team capacity to targeted action items generated in retros ebbs and flows, many sprints might have up to 5%-10% of their story points committed dedicated to process improvements on the team level, not just execution tasks themselves.

Keep a Retrospective Archive 

Teams who meet to host retrospectives regularly take pride in their traditions of continuous improvement. Maintaining a dedicated archive of learnings from team retrospectives, whether they are documents on a canvas or board, can be an effective way of looping in new team members (with permissions from the existing team), allowing existing team members to revisit their past ideas and allow process owners to use archived conversations to generate current, actionable takeaways. 

There are a number of simple ways to keep an archive of team retrospectives that is both easy to maintain and always accessible to your team, its original creators. 

If you’re co-located and hosting retrospectives in a traditional way using post-its, marketers and a whiteboard — gather the post-its after the retro and send them out to the team as meeting minutes. Keep a photo from the end of each retrospective on the organizational share point. 


If you’re hosting online team retrospectives, like in ScatterSpoke, your dashboard will make all past retros easily accessible to facilitators and team members. In addition, analytics engines like Team Pulse will aggregate all the data so you always have a bird’s eye view of data across retrospectives as well as across teams.


Vary the Format of the Meeting

All Agile meetings can be tailored to the needs of different types of teams. Hundreds of formats for team retrospectives exits. When facilitators limit the team to a more rigid, simple format, they may be missing an opportunity to allow creativity to flourish. 

Varying canvas retro templates like the Sailboat or Speed Car team retrospective can establish a more inviting environment within which more team members can contribute their ideas and think outside the box.

Check out our library of retrospectives to get acquainted with new formats that you can use to make your next team reflection a novelty among your team members. 

Facilitate and Lead by Example

Agile ways of working are all about self-managing teams. But, like prioritization, team retrospectives benefit from clear leadership. 

To set the stage at the beginning of the retrospective, strong leadership is essential in helping the team navigate the focus of the meeting. Asking prompting questions, keeping the teams on track and showcasing crucial values that give rise to valuable insights, like openness, transparency and mutual respect is key.

Without proper leadership, retrospectives can quickly take a turn for the worse, derailing the team’s discussion and allowing small clusters of the group to go off on unrelated tangents that don’t end up leading anywhere actionable. 


Turn Retrospectives Into Your Team’s Favourite Meeting 

For many functional groups inside our organizations, Agile ways of working are the future of process and team dynamics. No matter what Agile framework we choose to apply to our work, team retrospectives are an essential part of driving it forward. Team retrospectives are the backbone of continuous improvement, an Agile value that has a key position in both Kanban and Scrum. 

Keeping your team engaged during this point of connection makes the difference between making steps towards even higher performance as a unit, or lagging behind and reaping only a subset of the benefits of working in an Agile way. 

Make the team retrospective something your team looks forward to, through your leadership, effective facilitation, actionable takeaways, exciting formats and a commitment to a retro archive that your team knows they can rely on.