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Your team wants to skip the retrospective? Try these 4 things instead

David Horowitz

If you're running retrospectives and your team just doesn't care, whatever you do, don't skip the retrospective!

Retrospectives are too critical to miss. Instead, here are four things you can try to increase your team's engagement:

Option #1: Change the facilitator

When was the last time someone told you to do something and you immediately just said, "yes sir, I'll get right on it"? If you're in the military, then the answer might be "every day!"

For the rest of us, being told what to do isn't very appealing, especially when it's not clear what the upside is.

When it comes to retrospectives, if you are telling your team "you must run a retrospective now!", it can get pretty annoying. Why? Lack of ownership and lack of control.

Instead, try changing the facilitator by having someone else on your team run the next retrospective. Give the team ownership over the retrospective, and you'll be surprised at how much more engaged they can be.

Option #2: Change the script

If you're running retrospectives on a regular basis, I'll be the first to admit they can get kind of boring. Especially if you're running the same type of retrospective, time and again.

That's why it's important to change how you run the retrospective from time to time. Too many facilitators get stuck running the same retrospective technique, over and over.

If your team is bored with "What went well? What didn't go well?", change it up. Run a "Mad Sad Glad" retro instead. Or try Lean Coffee. There are plenty of techniques to choose from. Pick one that works for your team. And don't get stuck on it, just because it worked for you last time. Keep trying new ones to keep engagement high.

Option #3: Change the mentality

So, you keep running retrospectives, and the team keeps identifying the same problems, again and again? I bet your team is getting pretty frustrated that retrospectives aren't actually changing anything.

Here's one thing I know you can change: your mentality.

Instead of expecting that a retrospective will lead to continuous improvement, try expecting that a retrospective will lead to possible improvements. Then call these possible improvements "experiments".

Here's why that's so important. Suppose you come up with an action item to fix a big problem your team is facing. You try to implement the fix, but it doesn't actually work. If your expectation was that the action item was definitively the solution, it can be very frustrating when it doesn't work.

But if your expectation was that the action item is simply an experiment -- a possible solution, if you will -- then if it doesn't work, the experiment was simply a positive learning experience. And in your next retrospective, when the team identifies the same problem again, you can try a different experiment instead.

Treat action items as experiments, not as fixes, and you'll turn negative experiences into positive ones.

Option #4: Change the focus

Retrospectives produce action plans. That's something we all know. But how big should your action plan be? How many action items should it have?

If you're like most teams, you end up with 5, 10, maybe even 15 action items each retrospective. No wonder nothing ever changes!

It's hard enough to change one thing at a time, let alone 2 or 3. Now you're asking the team to change 5, 10, or 15? I've never seen that work.

Instead, change the focus. Have your team dial in on the single most important problem it's facing. And come up with a single action item that might fix the problem.

You'll find that your team will be more committed to implementing the fix when there are fewer things to change.

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