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Team engagement in Retrospectives

Last post 05:59 pm January 24, 2020 by Vaibhav Sabharwal
9 replies
03:22 pm January 23, 2020


So currently my retrospectives are really poor. Almost no engagement at all. We have tried Stop, Start, Continue and Mad, Sad, Glad approaches. We have tried an online board in our agile tool where the team can place ideas for discussion in advance of the next retro meeting. But nothing seems to work. We had one discussion topic which 2 out of 8 developers talked about for 5 minutes on and after actions were decided on that it was awkward silence while I asked if there was anything else anyone wanted to discuss. 

I'm after pointers to get people talking.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


06:17 pm January 23, 2020

How effectively do team members engage with each other during the Sprint itself? By the time of the Sprint Retrospective, do they actually have a common shared experience that they can reflect on?

If you asked them to draw up an agreed historical timeline of the various things that happened that Sprint, would they be able to do it?

07:31 pm January 23, 2020

How interested are the team in improving?

Are they empowered to do so?

Do they see opportunities to use the Sprint Retrospective to achieve this?

10:39 pm January 23, 2020

Remember that you are an equal participant in the Retrospective. It sounds to me that you have something you'd like to have the team discuss.  Bring it up, share your concerns about the current behaviors and see if you can build from it. 

10:49 pm January 23, 2020

Try "Silent Retrospective"

05:17 am January 24, 2020

I still remember the day when i facilitated my first retro, i was a bit nervous.  

I started the retro with explaining what a retro is all about. Once in a while i still start the retro session by reiterating what a retro is all about. IT's a closed room meeting with just the PO, SM and the Dev Team. A place where no one is judged, ideas are encouraged, it ok to be vulnerable and make mistakes, no finger pointing, if there is bad practise how can we improve. Focus on solutions for the problems. 

Then play an ice breaking game: for ideas i use this website: 

If they are very silent as you say, then i get them to move around. This exercise has helped me a lot. Before the session i prepare sticky notes and markers for each person in meeting. PO and SM included. 

  1.  I ask every one to write on the sticky notes (one line per sticky note) What went well, what didn't go well. I give them 5 minutes. As a SM even i write as well. 
  2. Ask them to stick the notes on the wall/white board. Left side for "What went well" sticky notes and right side for "What didn't go well". I make them move from their chairs. They have to stick it on the wall/white board. 
  3. Then i ask them as a team to group related stick notes in horizontal line. 
  4. Then i read each stick note out loud and ask who ever wrote it to elaborate on it. I start by reading the note on what went well.  (bring different coloured sticky notes for team member to identify which colour note they wrote on)
  5. As they elaborate on it, then ask them leading questions or acknowledge the effort of the team and ask the team to come up with action items to improve on what didn't go well. 
  6. Ask team members to take ownership of the action items. 
  7. Reflect on action items from previous retros and update on them.  

As a Scrum master i reflect on the sprint and check where we can improve and prepare question related to those areas of improvement. For example: 

  • Is the sprint goal achieved? if not bring it up during the retro. Ask each team member to speak what we can do as a team to achieve it! Was too much work committed? Any impediments during the sprint? 
  • Are the stories refined, before we pull them into the sprint? 
  • Are the stories tested during the sprint? Automation tests written for the stories?  

Hope this gives you enough pointers to improve your retrospectives. Please do share what changes you implemented and what worked for you. 

10:32 am January 24, 2020

Besides above mentioned topics, you can add energizers like Happy Salmon to get them going and start using formats from Liberating Structures like 1-2-4-All or Troika Consulting to start digging deeper and facilitate them having a valuable conversation about any kind of improvements.

02:51 pm January 24, 2020

Besides above mentioned topics, you can add energizers like Happy Salmon to get them going and start using formats from Liberating Structures like 1-2-4-All or Troika Consulting to start digging deeper and facilitate them having a valuable conversation about any kind of improvements.

+1 for Liberating Structures

02:55 pm January 24, 2020

There are really good suggestions in all above comments.

My experience when i started as SM was also not good with retrospectives. In my case team was not really sure about the outcome of it. So, to start with i had to do scrum workshops with my team. Most important is to know the purpose of this event. 

What i do now is to start with some 5 mins energizer just to ease up the team. Then of course you can go ahead with any format of retrospective you like and as others mentioned use Liberating structures. As per me different retro formats just adds little fun and hints helping in gathering data. But bigger picture is to know the purpose of doing it, feel motivated to improve continuously. When i picture Retrospectives i always think of a dressing room after the football match is over where coach and team sits together and talk constructively for the next improvements and learning they took.

Remember SM needs to facilitate and create an environment where team can have productive discussion with a focus to come up with an improvement/improvements for next iteration. 

05:59 pm January 24, 2020

Techniques by LUMA were really helpful in facilitation - A criticality vs difficulty graph.

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