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The Team Retro(spective)

A retrospective is a tool for team reflection that helps everyone understand what’s working, what isn’t, and collectively decide how to improve for the betterment of the team. Whether in-person or remote, retros give everyone a voice in the continuous improvement of the team’s work.

Team retros should be held regularly — typically after each sprint or completing a project milestone. Detroit Labs project teams hold space for team retros after each sprint to reflect on questions like: 

  • What went well?
  • What did not go so well?
  • What changes/improvements can we make moving forward?

Start with retros quickly

Team retros are easy to get started. For in-person teams, grab a whiteboard or paper and draw three columns with labels: “start”, “stop”, “continue”. For remote teams, start by creating a document for collaboration and grant everyone edit access!

It’s important to set the stage in creating a space where team members feel comfortable sharing both positives and negatives. 

Some team commitments that help set the stage during a team retro are:

  • An awareness and commitment that everyone’s experience and feelings are valid
  • A commitment to not make or take this personal
  • A commitment to focus on improvement rather than blame

Detroit Labs project teams also make a commitment to being kind, being curious, asking questions, and welcoming questions. These are some of the ways our teams intentionally build team safety on a project team 

Team retros can also hold the team accountable to team agreements by updating them as needed and serving as a reminder that the team is committed to providing feedback centered around the individual’s and team’s success. 

Don’t be afraid to modify the format

The goal of team retros is to reflect and shed light on problem areas to help brainstorm solutions; they’re not one size fits all. Don’t be afraid to modify team retros to meet your team’s needs and goals.

For example, we have used retros at all levels of the organization: all-company retros, project team retros, workgroup retros, etc. Each retro has a different goal and the conversations look different.

Before you start a team retro, answering these few questions will put constraints on the team and steer you toward a productive retro meeting: 

  • How often do we need a team retro? (It may not make sense for every team to meet after every sprint.)
  • What should the team focus on? (Everything? How we work together? etc.)

Make them matter

The “change” column needs attention and follow-up, and in most cases assigned individuals responsible for taking on the task or action item. Retros aren’t independent of one another — they’re a thread that needs to be followed. Following and reviewing retro notes over time can help paint a picture of how the team is working and identify common themes that have come up and may need more attention. 

Team retros require accountability to make visible change happen over time, helping nurture a stronger team and team relationships.