Lesson 1: Go from boring to engaging retrospectives

Welcome to the training! You can start the training by watching the video lesson below.

In the lesson we will be making use of one of my Miro templates, which you can copy via the button below.


Copy the Miro template

Do you want to master Retrospectives?

Then check out my full Retrospectives course.

Video Transcript

Welcome to the first lesson of your free retrospective training!

If you feel like your team isn't getting the most out of retrospectives, and want to learn new techniques to keep your retrospectives engaging then this is the training for you.

Even if you're doing retrospectives every week, you'll be able to keep your team engaged and interested after this course.

We will do that in three lessons:

1. Go from boring to engaging retrospectives.

2. Keeping your (hybrid) team engaged.

3. Increasing accountability in a (remote) team.

I like to make things practical and help you learn by doing. So we will use one of my Miro Retrospective templates to explain the concepts, and I will teach you what works and how it works.

This course is for you if:

You've facilitated quite a number of retrospectives before and want to learn how to make them more engaging or keep them engaging after running them regularly.

You are working with hybrid or remote teams and are struggling with keeping everyone in the team engaged and involved.

So, let's get started!

From boring to engaging

In this first lesson, we will look at making boring retrospectives highly engaging, by being able to read the signals that show your team is becoming less engaged and practical steps to make any retro something your team looks forward to.

What are retrospectives?

Retrospectives are a proven way to build healthy team habits and break bad ones. Running frequent retrospectives allows you and your team to become one percent better daily.

Do that for a year, and at the end of the year, everyone from your team will have improved 37 times.

Benefits of retrospectives

The benefits of retrospectives are that they help improve your team's relationships and foster team communication and collaboration. They are a proactive way to identify and solve problems quickly before they become larger issues.

That allows your team to do more of what's working well and less of what doesn't work, leading to higher team productivity and morale.

I have included a Miro board that you can copy below this video, allowing you to write down what benefits retrospectives are already bringing to you and your team. If you want to, you can click pause and do the exercise right now, or you can also do it after finishing the video first because there is another exercise in there that I will explain in a bit.

Signals of Good versus Bad retrospectives

Now, if you're ready, let's talk about signals for recognizing good versus bad retrospectives.

There are two types of retrospectives:

1. The retrospective that no one wants to be in, because it's ineffective and people feel like their time is wasted.

2. The retrospective that your team actually looks forward to, because it's fun, helpful, and leads to real change.

The good news is that you can easily identify bad retros and do something about them with some practical steps.

But, it requires you, to be able to kind of read your team and their needs.

If you're able to read your team, you can better serve their needs and challenges in a way that uses your team members' intrinsic motivation.

Reading a team is actually simpler than it sounds if you know what to look for.

I have included a list of signals in the Miro board that you can copy below this video, and you might recognize some of them for your situation:

1. Team members are making up excuses not to join the retro.

2. People are joining the retro, but are multi-tasking or not participating.

3. The retrospective is focused on complaining about the lack of progress since the last retro.

4. People are leaving the retrospective feeling underwhelmed.

5. Retrospectives are starting to feel repetitive.

If any of these sound familiar, then your retrospectives need some help.

Let's look at seven practical steps to make retros like that more engaging, but remember that as the facilitator of a retrospective you can only do so much. Growing and improving as a team is only possible if everyone in the team is putting in the effort needed to do so.

As the facilitator you create the best possible environment for your team, but it's still up to every individual to make it a success.

So give your best every retrospective, but don't be too hard on yourself if you feel it was not the  best one ever, just like your team shouldn't be too hard on each other or themselves.

Remember that it's a journey and that you will get better with time and experience. Having said that, it can be helpful to have some guidance in preparing and designing your retrospectives. In my paid course called Run Retrospectives like a Pro there are many tools that help you prepare engaging and effective retrospective.

For example with the seven laws of engaging retrospectives. These laws help you get in the right mindset just before your next retro, so that you as the facilitator can create the best possible environment for your team.

Law one is to set the right expectations. In the course I explain how to always have your team on the same page with the instructions you give and expectations you set. This helps your team to get more out of the time you spent together. So if you want to learn more about that, I encourage you to have a look at the Run Retrospectives like a Pro course page.

7 Practical Steps to make retrospectives more engaging

Now let's get to the seven practical steps.

1. Focus on accomplishments

This is a quick, but really effective step to take. Too many times teams forget the progress they make. By highlighting accomplishments retrospective can feel more like a celebration and less like a complaint session.

You can do this by keeping a log of your team's successes and call them out at the beginning of the retro. When working on your priorities, ask everyone in the team to write down all your successes and victories, no matter how big or small. Keep them in a Miro board, Google Slides document, or Slack channel, and use them when you feel it makes sense.

2. Keep retrospectives short

The problem with most retrospectives is that they are too long. Usually, they are scheduled for an hour, but in reality, they last much longer. This happens because the facilitator doesn't keep track of time, or because the team gets caught up in discussion and forgets to wrap up.

It's important to keep retrospectives short so that people don't get bored or lose focus. Schedule your retrospective for forty-five minutes or less, and try to focus on less instead of more. This connects great with step three, which is make people come in prepared.

3. Make people come in prepared

If you give your team the opportunity to come in prepared, they will be more engaged because they feel their input is valued and more time to think things through.

A great way to do this is to use a retrospective template. This retrospective template helps team members to prepare by giving them specific questions to think about before the retrospective. The goal is not to answer these questions during the retrospective, but rather to get people in the right mindset and to get them thinking about the retrospective before it even starts.

4. Mix your retrospective activities

Step four is to mix the activities you do in a retro. This one might sound like a no-brainer, but is more difficult to put in practice then it might seem. A specific activity can work great for a specific topic, but feel awkward for another. Start by deciding on the challenge you want to solve in your retrospective, and then pick the right exercises for it. A great place to find inspiration is Miroverse.  You can find lots of templates for free here, for example my Atomic Habits Retrospective template. We will have a look at that template in the next lesson of this course.

5. Have a clearly visible common goal

Because step five is to have a clearly visible common goal. Putting in the effort to create a team goal is a great way to help the team bond and be more engaged. But it's important to keep the goal top of mind, and show the progress you are making towards that goal together. Keep repeating the goal and have it visible all the time when you can, for example at the start of the retro. Just repeating the goal out loud can be enough.

6. Make every retro a workshop

Step six is to make every retro a workshop. If a retro is boring or feel repetitive, it's most of times because it's run in the same way as old-fashioned meetings. But a retrospective is not a meeting, it's a workshop. This means that the purpose is to work on something and come up with solutions together as a team. If one or two persons are dominating the conversation, it's not likely that you will come up with the best solutions. Encourage everyone to participate by using retrospective techniques like round-robin or silent brainstorming.

7. Have clear ownership of action items

And the last step is to have clear ownership of action items. If you want your retrospective to be effective, it's important that the team takes action on the things that they have identified as areas of improvement. This means that someone needs to take ownership of each action item. The owner is responsible for making sure the action item is completed, and for reporting back to the team on the progress.

In the Atomic Habits retro you can find a blue area with a structured way of writing down actions items.

And there you have it for this lesson, the seven steps: focus on accomplishments, keep retros short, make people come in prepared, mix your activities, have a common goal, workshop every retro and have clear ownership.

Now if you feel overwhelmed, that's okay. Remember that being able to facilitate retrospectives is a superpower that will allow you to help yourself and your team be more productive and will advance your career. And using structured templates will make your life as a facilitator so much easier.

In the next lesson, you will learn more about how to keep a hybrid team engaged and connected using a template like that, and in the final lesson, you will learn how to increase accountability in a remote team using retrospectives.

Don't forget to copy the Miro template below and do the exercises of this lesson, because that will help you feel more prepared. If you have any questions, just hit reply on the email I sent you for this lesson.


Do you want to master Retrospectives?

Then check out my full Retrospectives course.