Facilitating a retrospective through questions

Repetitive things gets boring too soon. I observed team retrospectives to be one of them. I introduced this format in my current project and it worked out well by making everyone speak and voice their opinions. Here are the steps to do the retrospective in this format.

Ice breaker or energizer – Any simple ice breaker which can be completed within 5 minutes is a good start. It loosens up people and also makes them forget work if they were pre-occupied with some problem.

Reflection time – Give the team around 10 minutes of silent time to think about what went well and what needs to change. They can write it down if they think they will forget. Make sure to run through the previous retrospective’s action items with the team.

Writing space – Have white board markers in two different colours such that you can capture points in alternating colours. It is easy to read the board from everywhere in a hall. One whiteboard is sufficient

Questions round – Prepare questions which reflect the priority of the business and team. Some examples

  • Do we manage product owner’s expectations well?
  • Do we understand the business drivers?
  • Are we satisfied with the quality of solutions that we are providing?


  • How do we rate our delivery standards?
  • What is our elevator pitch?
  • Do we understand the best practices and follow them?
  • Is the team proactive or reactive?
  • Is this a fun place to work?
  • Are we gaining something as an individual and as a team?
  • Is our staffing model right?
  • How well do we interact with other teams and share knowledge?
  • How are the Ownership and Satisfaction levels?
  • What are your inputs to the project management?
  • Do we understand the various milestones?
  • Are dependencies/risks/issues tracked and addressed?
  • Are risks and issues tracked?
  • How is the Team Morale?
  • Is there a work life balance?

Ask these questions to individuals in a round robin format and capture the highlight of that point on the whiteboard. If someone else also has an opinion or an alternate answer, then capture that as well. Some questions could be made on the spot to spark discussions. After the questions are done, open the floor for people to provide inputs which might not have been covered by the questions.

Analysis time – This phase can get longer if not facilitated properly. Read each point and capture ‘Action items’ and ‘Ideas’ from the team. If any point gets into a debate or a solution mode then quickly interrupt and capture the resolution of that problem to be an action item for a focused group or the team itself based on how severe it looks.

Ownership for actions – Request for volunteers to implement the action items and try out new ideas. Capture their names against the line items on a poster to put it up in the team area later.

Recognition time – Though teams should not have heroes, it is natural for individuals to go through phases of ups and downs, which makes some individuals contribute more than the others in a given span of time. Give the team the last five minutes to reach out to the individuals whom they think that life was made easy because of their help or contribution; and thank them mentioning what made their life easy.

Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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