7 Retrospective Facilitation Good Practices

agile retrospective facilitation practicesAgile teams use retrospectives to reflect, learn, and adapt their way of working. Facilitating retrospectives matters, it’s important to have a skilled facilitator to assure that retrospectives become effective. Let’s explore 7 good practices and tips that facilitators can use to help teams to get more value out of their agile retrospectives.

An agile retrospective, or sprint retrospective as Scrum calls it, is a practice used by teams to reflect and become better in what they do. They are a great way to continuously improve the way of working. Getting feasible actions out of a retrospective and getting them done helps teams to learn and improve.

To make the retrospective effective, facilitators should focus on the following:

  • Establishing an open and honest culture in the meeting
  • Ensure that all team members participate in the meeting
  • Assure that the team establishes a shared understanding of how things went
  • Help the team to decide upon the vital few actions that they will take

Good practices for facilitation

Here are 7 practices that I recommend for facilitating retrospectives to make them valuable for the participants.

Many retrospective facilitators use the prime directive to establish a safe culture where team members speak up and will be open and honest. It sets the assumption that team member did the best they could possibly do, and that the purpose of the retrospective is not to blame people.

A retrospective facilitator should not have a personal stake in the outcome of the meeting. The team has to decide which actions they will do, the facilitator should not influence their decision. If the Scrum master is facilitating the retrospective this can be a challenge, as (s)he is also a team member.

Retrospective facilitators must be able to deal with negative issues. Help the team to focus on the issue and to understand them and don’t blame any team members for what has happened. This requires strong communication skills, being able to pay attention to verbal and non-verbal communication. Feelings matter in agile retrospectives.

Dealing with silence is another skill that facilitators should have. Silence helps people to think, to reflect, or to accept things that have happened. Sometimes the best thing a facilitator can do is to say and do nothing and give space to the team members to come up with their ideas.

A facilitator should focus on the process of the retrospective meeting. They should assure that exercises are done in an appropriate way, keep time, recognize and deal with retrospective smells, and help team members in performing activities that are needed to do the retrospective effectively.

A facilitator should serve their team in the meeting, but should not lead people based on their own opinion or ideas on what the team should do. It is important that a facilitator remains independent, which again can be challenging when the facilitator is also the Scrum master of the team.

Active listening can be useful in retrospective meetings, for instance when the facilitator recaps what is being said and checks if it has been understood by all attendants. It helps to build a shared understanding in the team.

Tools for retrospective facilitators

In my workshops, training, and coaching sessions, I use many exercises and games to improve retrospectives. I’m making these tools available for Scrum masters, retrospective facilitators, and agile coaches in my webshop.

Here are some of the books and tools for doing valuable agile retrospectives.

Doing effective agile retrospectives

retrospective exercises toolboxThe book Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives from Luis Gonçalves and Ben Linders provides many different retrospective exercises that you can use to design effective retrospectives for continuous sustainable improvement.  Many retrospective exercises are provided via the Retrospective Exercise Toolbox, a free of charge agile coaching tool that helps you to do Valuable Agile Retrospectives.

Note: an earlier version of this article has been published on the Retrium blog in Facilitating Effective Agile Retrospectives. This article has been updated on May 18, 2019, to reflect new insights in effective retrospective facilitation and provide tools for Scrum masters, retrospective facilitators, and agile coaches.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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