How to bring about change through retrospective

Published on March 01, 2019

How to bring about change through retrospective

    Retrospective is a complex format of teamwork by a group containing elements of a brainstorm (council), coaching and feedback.

    Regular retrospectives causing changes from below are the most important sign of an organized live team.

    Unfortunately, quite often retrospectives become a boring formal ritual that does not lead to changes, or even come to naught. Perhaps this is due to the loss of the essence of retro, like meeting to work with emotions.

    For retrospective, an experienced facilitator is desirable. This is especially important in starting teams.

    If you are such a person and want to deepen the retro, in the article you will find tips and an original look at this meeting with incl. brain work and the goals of stimulating the personal growth of participants.


    It is widely believed that the goal of retrospective is to improve performance. This misses a key detail - independence. I think the goal of retrospect is for the team to improve its work.

    So the goal is to change people. Those. retrospective, this is a little bit of psychotherapy. You need to create new habits, change your mind about something, sell the changes to everyone, and not just come up with new instructions.

    To control the instructions you need a manager. And an autonomous team must itself control them, which requires decision-making by team members on a personal level.

    Thus, a retrospective is, in fact, a coaching team. Based on this, you can transfer the standard coaching approach to the group and look at the structure of the meeting through this prism.

    For the desired effect, it is critical that people have the motivation for change in general. They understood why they should make efforts to change themselves, and understood where they were going with the company. This is wider than the context of this article, further the existence of such motivation is implied.

    How do people change

    Two general principles of coaching, on the basis of which to choose retro activities and evaluate their success.

    1. Recover

    Changes are new connections in the brain, i.e. they need a window of neuroplasticity. For this, the first part of the meeting should be structured so that people talk about their emotions: ideally, up to bodily sensations, in relation to the issues discussed.

    It is also important in terms of forming the basis for insight. Formulating emotions, we are aware of our problems and desires and subconsciously begin to solve them. This is reflection.
    In retrospect, this is the task of the first part of the meeting - the generation of topics.

    2. Use the mind

    After realizing the emotions, it is necessary to classify them, evaluate and decide whether we want to do something with them or not. Apply rational.

    This is the second part - discussion and completion. Here it is necessary to determine specific steps, goals, choose a responsible person. Ideally, those responsible should call themselves, but if the team is new, tired or inexperienced, a reasonable push is acceptable to get the first positive results.

    Even if in retrospect it is not possible to formulate good steps with those responsible, if it turned out to talk frankly about emotions - it’s already good. Many changes occur gradually and unconsciously. Simple mindfulness - improves well-being. Additionally, insights themselves occur after.

    Therefore, it is important not to overload the team and not form too many expectations. Otherwise, a retrospective may be perceived as pressure and instead of an open discussion of emotions, there will be closedness and protection.

    Meeting structure

    Like all meetings, a retrospective can be divided into three main parts: expansion, discussion, narrowing. Plus an introduction and summary.

    I will not dwell on specific activities, there are numerous tips on this subject, special retrospective maps, books and Google. We also wrote a little about this a year ago.

    Here about what we want to achieve at each stage and why.

    1. Introduction

    To start well with authorizing a past result and setting goals.

    Retrospective is a regular activity. In order for the team to penetrate, work, and eventually begin to lead retro itself, you need to show a positive result. To do this, at the beginning it helps to review the results of past retro and focus on what has been improved. What was not possible can also be said, but without demotivation and defamation. That is why at the first retro it is permissible to push the team to specific steps and responsible, and then to control their implementation. If there are no positive results for all, it is difficult to expect the purchase of the process and independence further.

    The goal is important to pronounce for the new and inexperienced, but even experienced ones can forget or misunderstand. This is an open discussion, reflection and self-improvement of work processes. It’s also great to tie the changes to the actual big goals: fulfilling the team’s big task, increasing the salary level, reducing the risks of dismissal and the like.

    2. Collection of topics

    It is important here that people talk about real emotions, rather than betraying their rationalization and stereotypes. For example, the popular activity of the brain storm “Glad, Sad, Mad” activity often leads to this.

    It’s good practice to choose an activity that asks people to remember specific work histories or tasks and recall their feelings about them. Remembering, it is more difficult to avoid a collision with your emotions. For example, you can take tasks from the last sprint and offer to generate for each what was cool and what could be improved.

    It’s good practice to change activities, as they become boring and people instead of immersing in reflection begin to act stereotyped.

    At the end of the activity, you need to cluster (pain, emotions, growth points) and vote (for example, by points ) to select topics for discussion.

    3. Discussion

    Next, you need to discuss selected topics, delve deeper and generate ideas for improvement. Normal facilitation, depending on the number of topics and participants, different methods can be used. Sequentially or in parallel in groups.

    Following the results, similarly, we cluster and vote ideas.

    4. Completion

    And the development of concrete steps. It is important to focus on a small number of feasible improvements. Perhaps more importantly, focus on what has clear supporters and those who want to take responsibility. Because our goal is self-improvement by the team and, in the bright future, self-organization.

    Sometimes it’s better to try to implement not the most effective step, but a team or a specific person will get the experience of independence. Compromise and reconciliation can kill the initiative, this must be avoided.

    If the team has little experience, convince that for the selected improvements there will be time and other resources necessary for execution. For the same reasons, the importance of authorizing the first results.

    Pay attention to the specificity of the goals and proposed improvements. See best practices below.

    5. Retro to retro

    If you have the strength and time, spend 3-5 minutes a feedback collection session, which was good, which can be improved. It is possible in the form of voting by building in a line, it is possible in the form of stickers. This allows not only to improve, but also to better consolidate the results of the meeting with the participants.

    Best practics

    Just a few basic ones, which are especially important not to forget.

    • Time limit. It is better to keep within an hour and a half, or 50 + 10 + 50. Example timing of an experienced team:
      • 5 minutes introduction
      • 15 collection of topics
      • 15 collecting ideas
      • 15 development steps
      • 5 completion
    • Standard Facilitation Practices
      • Speak in order of hands raised
      • Reference votes if the discussion drags on
      • Parking lot for branches
    • Right goals
      • SMART
      • A good next step is to have a date, one responsible and formulated as specific muscle actions

    Summary and what to read

    Holding regular meetings in this way, with a traditional frequency of once every 2-4 weeks, after some time you should see positive changes and greater involvement of the team. The best sign is more smiles on their faces and a more relaxed atmosphere.