Your 7-Step Guide to Running an Effective Team Retrospective Session

Retrospectives are a great way to find out what works and what doesn’t in your team.

Dasa Kasparova

As they say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Retrospectives are a great way to prevent this. These look-backs on how you do things are an important part of any software development process, but they can be as effective for any team.

At Slido, we started to run team retrospectives in our Success and Marketing teams too. And they quickly became an invaluable tool for improving how we do things. 

Let’s look more closely at how we run them.

1. Ask for input before the meeting

We start by collecting the team’s input prior to the meeting. It’s important to give people time to reflect on how things happened so they can better formulate their thoughts and suggestions. Plus, it saves a lot of time for face-to-face discussion as we don’t have to use the meeting time for gathering feedback.

We usually ask the following set of questions. We collate them in a Slido survey and send it out through Slack a week before the retro meeting.

  • How do you rate the past month? (Rating poll)
  • What went well? (Open text poll)
  • What can we improve? (Open text poll)
  • What did you learn? (Open text poll)

Retrospective via Slido

There are various alternatives to these questions. For example, the team at Intercom discusses the things that made them Glad, Sad or Mad. Our Success team prefers to look at the processes they have in place and how to improve them, so they ask:

  • What one thing should we stop/start/continue doing in Q3? (Open text poll)

And finally, retro is a great space to not only recap things, but to give recognition where due. Although this job naturally falls under the team lead, we found it’s powerful to give people the opportunity to say thanks to their teammates and appreciate each other’s work. You can do so via the following poll:

  • If you would like to say thanks to somebody, just do it here. (Open text poll)

Extra tip: To make sure you gather inputs from everyone involved, keep track of the number of responses that have already been submitted. If there aren’t enough votes and the meeting’s approaching, send a reminder or two to encourage all to participate.

2. Review the answers together

“Collecting results is just the beginning. The most important part is to create space for discussion and encourage people to elaborate on what they posted,” explains Lubo Drobny, our Head of Engineering.

That’s when you really get to the bottom of things.

At our retros at Slido, we display the answers on the screen and go through them one by one. They are anonymous by default, but we always open the room for additional comments and give people a chance to expand on their submissions.

3. Make the discussion open and democratic

Retrospectives should be an open forum where everyone can share their thoughts without fear or bias. Stress that every opinion is welcome and everyone’s view is equally important.

It might be difficult for your team to adopt this mindset at first, but once you start organizing these sessions regularly, people will get used to the format and become more comfortable with sharing their thoughts,” says Lubo Drobny.

4. Ask follow-up questions to get to the bottom of things

With everything above being said, you’ve probably figured out that this kind of meeting calls for proper facilitation. Sometimes, a gentle push might be needed to get the discussion flowing.

One thing I found successful in getting my team members to speak up is to start with myself. When we talk about improving things, I try to encourage people to share their thoughts by going first. I’d say: I know one thing I really need to start doing is…” advises our Success Team Lead Jo Massie.

Another technique to get to the bottom of things is to ask good follow-up questions. If the feedback posted via Slido is too vague and you receive something like “we need better feature specifications,” invite colleagues to expand on it until you pinpoint concrete steps for improvement.

Conversely, if the inputs are straightforward as they are, don’t ask people to repeat what they have posted. Just move on to the next points and save time for those that might need it more.

5. Acknowledge the remote colleagues

Facilitating a productive debate can be even more difficult when some members of your team are online. If you work with a remote team, make sure that you proactively include them in the conversation.

As Slido Success Lead Jozef Dolinka puts it, a good idea here is “addressing people directly by name to get their views on a specific issue.” You can say something like, “Jack, you mentioned that you experienced a similar situation recently. Can you tell us more about it?”

6. Assign owners of the next steps

Don’t let your retro turn into just another meeting your teammates have to attend. Make sure the ideas are turned into tasks and actually implemented in your team’s sprints or task list.

We usually appoint a notetaker who summarizes the meeting in writing so that everyone knows the next steps and their owners,” says our Success Team Lead Jo Massie.

Alternatively, you can put action steps directly onto your Trello board, editorial calendar or another place where you keep your team’s tasks while still in the meeting.

7. Share the outcomes

The main goal of the retrospective is to improve and learn from your own mistakes. But you can also learn from the mistakes and good practices of others. If we run retrospectives on projects that concern teams in various locations (such as local client events), we cross-share the summary of the key points in dedicated Slack channels to grow together. 

People find it extremely valuable.

Wrap up

Retrospectives are a great tool to reflect on how you do things. If facilitated well, they can get your team to speak up and actively seek to improve things. Use the steps above to get to the bottom of things that cause you pain, increase your team’s productivity and foster better relationships among your teammates.

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