Retrospective Cheat Sheet

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Retrospective Cheat Sheet

There are many ways to run a successful retrospective meeting. This short cheat sheet should help you set up your first retrospective meeting and set your team on a path to continuous improvement.

Step 1 – Prepare your team

If you have never run a retrospective meeting with your team it might be useful to introduce them to the idea first. Two weeks before the meeting should be enough time for your team to prepare.
Start by sending an email to your team explaining why you want to add this type of reoccurring meeting to everyone’s calendar and what is that you expect of everyone participating.
It might be worth adding that this might be an experiment, and it is aimed to help you and the team to improve their day to day operations by introducing a small change over time and benefiting from the compounding effect.
At a minimum of one week before the meeting, send a calendar invite with a detailed agenda.
9:00 Start of the meeting, (for a second and following meeting add: follow-up on previous Action Items)
9:05 Team answers four questions:
– What went well
– What didn’t go well
– What should we start or continue doing
– What should we stop or avoid doing
9:10 Aggregating answers to themes
9:15 Team votes on the most important themes
9:17 Top 4 themes discussion:
– 7 min. per theme
– 2 min. per Action Item
– 1 min. choosing assignee
9:57 Meeting adjourned

Two days before the meeting send them a reminder, asking to prepare:
At least one thing that went well and why did it go well,
At least one thing the didn’t work and why it didn’t,
At least one thing the team could start or should continue doing,
At least one thing the team should stop or avoid doing.

Step 2 – Prepare the room

The retrospective meeting should be scheduled as one of the last meetings in the reoccurring cycle of work, whether it is based on Sprints from Agile Framework or simply end of the month. However, it is advisable to set it up early in the morning, so that events occurring during the day don’t upset the team and skew their perspective before the meeting starts.
The meeting room should have a whiteboard or a wall on which you can stick sticky notes easily without pulling paint off the wall.
Divide the board/wall into 4 equal parts, preferably columns, and give each one a title corresponding with four questions from the agenda.
Make sure each participant will have enough sticky notes to provide their answers, at minimum 8, but the more the better. If you like playing with colours, have each question have its colour and give participants enough stickies of each colour. This helps keep things organized and makes organizing them much easier.
Cut out 3 round colour voting labels per participant. Round colour labels can be purchased in any dollar store.
Make sure you have enough pens or sharpies for everyone, as you want to avoid wasting time searching for them at the last minute.
Have a clock or stopwatch ready and print the agenda so you can follow the timeline.

Step 3 – Run retrospective meeting

Start by welcoming everyone and reinstating your intention for the retrospective meeting. Make sure everyone understands the purpose of the meeting and general ground rules:

  • Only one person speaks, and we don’t speak over each other
  • Everyone’s point of view is valid, even if “you” disagree with them, their perspective is their reality
  • The facilitator will interrupt speakers if they run out of time
  • Themes that won’t be addressed during this meeting, can be addressed next time
  • The facilitator will make sure everyone can speak at least once, if not more, everyone needs to participate
  • No laptops or smartphones are permitted during this meeting

After you explain the above, get right into it. Ask your team to start writing answers to the four questions on sticky notes. Once you see some stickies being ready, place them on the whiteboard/wall right away to avoid wasting time and traffic at the end of the time for this section of the meeting.
Follow the agenda closely and stick to the time. Resist the temptation of over-analyzing or overthinking themes. The purpose is to make sure everyone understands the issue enough to specify an Action Item. It will be the responsibility of the assignee to investigate solutions and resolving the issue. There is no need to solve the problem during the meeting.
While assigning action items to responsible team members, make sure there is only one person responsible for the action item, even if more people will be involved in implementing the solution. For that reason, make sure no one gets more than one Action Item to resolve. Spread responsibility for improvement across the entire team, especially from meeting to meeting, giving everyone a chance to contribute.
During the second and following meetings, make sure to acknowledge people who delivered on their Action Items, and if some were not resolved, make sure to address it. Find out why by scheduling a follow-up meeting. Instead of re-assigning the Action Item, try to find a way to support your team member so that they can deliver the resolution. This helps people grow as professionals and helps them be more persistent.
Side note:
Here is a link to an article which will show you other styles of retrospective meetings –

Step 4 – Empower your team

By Designing small and achievable Action Items and assigning them to your team members, you are effectively motivating them. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are at the top of the list of different factors that drive our motivation –
Give your team members an opportunity to learn, grow and make a difference by making them responsible for a single Action Item, that they can deliver by the next meeting. They need to be able to show progress to the team to engage them in the next Action Items coming out of the next meeting.
It is important that you find a way to give them enough time to investigate and resolve assigned Action Item. Lack of time or low priority cannot stand in the way of introducing change. The entire premise of a retrospective is to find a way to make small improvements over time and not just to talk about them.

Step 5 – Follow-up

Schedule a follow-up meeting with all Action Item assignees one week after the retrospective to review progress. Make sure everyone understands the purpose and priority of their commitment. Offer help or find support, but never allow the Action Item to be neglected.


Different styles of retrospective meetings –
Article about pillars of motivation –
Toastmasters Moments of Truth –

Workshop video highlights

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