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Mad Sad Glad Retrospective

Mad Sad Glad is a classic exercise that encourages team members to consider ways to improve morale and create a positive, safe environment. While “old school” corporate practices might have promoted hiding your emotions at work, this retrospective exercise gives agile teams the opportunity to let them fly! If you want to discuss the emotional journey of the team after the previous sprint, Mad Sad Glad is a straightforward retrospective technique to promote emotional well-being.

Use this retrospective technique when you want to...

Highlight different perspectives of shared experiences on the team.

Consider how systems and processes are affecting both individual and team morale. 

Take a closer look at the impact a certain event may have had on the team.

How to run a Mad Sad Glad retrospective

Use the Mad Sad Glad retrospective template to check on your team's emotional wellbeing. Allow your team members to analyze the positive and negative emotions they may have experienced during past projects. The Mad Sad Glad template will allow you to build a positive team dynamic that will improve communication and increase productivity in the long run.

Preparing for the Mad Sad Glad Retrospective

Before the retrospective session begins, the facilitator selects this technique from the options in Retrium's retrospective exercises toolbox.

Setting The Scene

Get your team ready for the retrospective by briefly sharing your expectations for the retrospective, explaining how the technique works, and defining the three columns:

Things that the team found frustrating in the last iteration

Things that the team found disappointing in the last iteration

Things that made the team happy and excited in the last iteration

Make sure all team members are aware of the procedures before you begin! Depending on the size of your team, setting a timer - or timeboxing - can help keep the meeting moving forward. Just make sure to ensure adequate time for the brainstorming phase and deeper discussion (most teams can finish a Mad Sad Glad retrospective in about 60 minutes).


Ask your team to take time to think about the most recent iteration and create a sticky note for any experience that made them mad, sad, or glad. Create a 10-minute timebox for participants to brainstorm and add their ideas to each column - but have the team keep their ideas private! Having participants submit their notes anonymously is the best way to collect honest feedback, as it allows team members to think independently without being influenced by others' opinions. 


This next step helps the team find common themes in the ideas they generated and will help focus the upcoming discussion on the big ideas on everyone's mind. Let's say there are several notes about low team morale in the Sad column; you'll most likely want to group those together under the same group to discuss. Announce the timebox (5-10 minutes) and allow participants to collaboratively group and name the notes on the board.

Dot Voting

Sometimes it's clear that there are big things to discuss during the retrospective. But sometimes it's not so obvious! It can be challenging to identify the most pressing topics for the entire team. If this is the case, the facilitator can use dot voting to let the group have a say in what topics are discussed.

Leading Discussions

Now it's time for the best part: discussion! 🎉

If your team used dot voting, then the discussion should begin with the group that received the most votes. If dot voting was not used, the facilitator can choose the order of discussion. The facilitator can choose to timebox the discussion of each individual theme as well (usually for 5-10 minutes). The advantage of this approach is that it tends to keep the conversation focused.

Creating Action Items

Retrospectives are designed to organize action around opportunities for improvement. The best way to ensure follow-through is to create and save SMART action items with each topic the team discussed. Later, when you are ready for your next sprint retrospective, you'll be able to review the successes and pitfalls of your previous action plan, and ensure that the team is on a path toward continuous improvement in future sprints! 😉

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