Formula For Running Effective Retrospectives

Laura Jennings
May 26, 2023
5 min read

Retrospectives are a crucial part of the Agile process. They provide a platform for teams to reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and make plans to implement changes.


However, to truly reap the benefits of retrospectives, it's important to approach them with intention and structure. In this post, we'll explore the formula for running effective retrospectives and how to build trust in your team to draw out valuable feedback.


Building Trust: The Foundation of Effective Retrospectives

The key to running effective retrospectives lies in building trust within the team. Without trust, team members may be less likely to share their honest thoughts and feelings, which can hinder the effectiveness of the retrospective. In order to build trust, team members need to feel safe and supported.

This can be achieved by, intentionally, cultivating an environment where every team members voice is heard, and they feel that their contributions are valued.


The Intention of Retrospectives

The intention of retrospectives is to identify areas of improvement and create a plan of action to implement those changes. It's important to approach retrospectives with an open mind and a willingness to learn. The goal is not to assign blame or point fingers, but rather to encourage collaboration and growth within the team.


The Formula for Running Effective Retrospectives

So here is what I have found to be my proven formula for running effective retrospectives:

1. Set the Stage: Prepare a unique and curated meeting structure based upon team observations. Start by creating a safe and supportive environment. This can be achieved by encouraging team members to share their thoughts and feelings openly.

  • Begin the session with an activity like trivia, Pictionary, or another fun, laughter inducing game. Psychological studies show that by adding gamification at work, employees benefit from a dose of dopamine (the feel good hormone) shown to contribute to a happy mood. This is useful to energize the atmosphere during and after the session.
  • Another activity (the most important in my opinion) that helps to drive connection and trust between team members is one that encourages team members to share things about themselves that they, otherwise, may not have the opportunity to share. This should be lighthearted but insightful for the entire team. For example, have the team share a quote or a favorite book along with the reason why it is important to them. Learning more about what matters to team members makes room for them to truly see each other as human “beings” rather than just human “doings.” Skipping this would mean missing out on a powerful opportunity to bond the team together.

2. Generate and Capture Insights: Use a variety of techniques to generate insights from the team, such adding insights to sticky notes with their own thoughts on what went well, what didn’t, and what the team can do to improve. Encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas, even if they seem unconventional.

It's important to keep a record of the insights and action items generated during the retrospective. This can be achieved by taking notes or using a tool like a Mural.

3. Decide on Action Items: Once the insights have been generated, work as a team to identify the most important areas for improvement and develop a plan of action to implement those changes. Adding the tangible action items along with an owner as a backlog improvement item is a powerful way to empower the team to drive the action forward.

4. Close the Retrospective: End the retrospective on a positive note by acknowledging the team's efforts and progress. Celebrate successes and encourage team members to continue working together towards improvement.


Retrospection as a Human Connection Opportunity

In conclusion, retrospectives are not just about identifying areas for improvement; they're also an opportunity for teams to connect on a human level. By creating a supportive environment and encouraging open communication, team members can get to know each other better and build stronger relationships. Additionally, retrospectives don't have to be dull or boring. Have fun with it! Incorporate games, and connection activities, to keep things engaging and lighthearted.


Running effective retrospectives are essential for continuous improvement in Agile teams. By building trust within the team, setting clear intentions, and following a structured formula, teams can identify areas for improvement and create a plan of action to implement changes.

But don't forget to have fun and connect on a human level, too!

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