How to Run a Retrospective Your Team Can Get Excited About

To keep your team retrospectives productive in the long-term, there are proven tactics you can use as a facilitator or team member. To make sure your team is excited for this meeting and you’re leading them to actionable takeaways, use these best practices when planning or hosting retrospectives.

Colleen Johnson

October 7, 2021
4 mins

When Agile ways of working first emerged in knowledge work, development teams were thrilled about recurring retrospective meetings. In traditional ways of working, teams had 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, 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 a time when everyone simply goes through the motions.

To keep your team retrospectives productive in the long-term, there are a couple of proven tactics you can use as a facilitator or team member. To make sure your team is excited for this meeting and getting actionable takeaways, keep these following best practices in mind 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 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 main topic. This approach gives team members a chance to feel connected to the retro, its structure, and to arrive prepared instead of being caught off-guard.

Act on the Takeaways 

Without follow-up, insights generated during a retrospective meeting can lose their value quickly. To prevent this, facilitators have a responsibility 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 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 dedicated to process improvements on the team level, not just execution tasks themselves.

Keep a Retrospective Archive 

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

There are simple, accessibly, and easy to maintain ways to archive team retrospectives.

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 in an accessible location.

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 exist for this reason. 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 in 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 still 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. They’re 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.

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