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Setting the Tone for your Retrospective

Why Setting the Tone  for your Retrospective Meeting Matters

Most people are moving quickly from one task or meeting to another throughout the workday and require time to mentally switch context from one event to the next.  There are quick but powerful activities  you can do, as a facilitator, that will set the right tone and encourage group members to be fully present, engaged, and eager to participate in the retrospective meeting. 

Shared Goal and Outcomes 

Clearly set the intention of the meeting. Sometimes the goal is already set in advance. If this is the case, do not assume that everyone is aware of the purpose for the meeting- just because they are in attendance.  Take a moment to relay the goal of the meeting to the participants. Sometimes it is appropriate to build this goal together. In that case, the first part of the retrospective can be used to come to agreement on the intention and purpose of the meeting.  In both cases, participants  should understand the goal of the meeting, the time frame, and the intended outcome(s) before diving into those sticky note techniques!! 

The Prime Directive

“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”. The Prime Directive is the base of the “pyramid” of a retrospective. Without it, the rest of the structure won’t stand. Posting the Prime Directive in a highly visible location, reading it aloud prior to beginning a retro, or sharing a screenshot of the words during a retro can help foster  open, respectful communication during the retrospective allowing for an outcome-oriented, engaging and positive meeting. 


Thanking people is never a waste of time . Taking 15 seconds at the beginning of a meeting appreciating the group for showing up and putting mental energy and time into the topic at hand is important and helps set the tone for a productive meeting where everyone feels valued. You can follow the “thank you” up by asking group members to share a recent “win” or provide an appreciation to someone else on the team. 

Team Safety Check 

Does your team feel safe to speak up during retrospectives? Are you sure? If you have never run a safety check, if it’s been awhile since your last one, or if you’ve added new members to your team, running a Team Safety Check before a retrospective is essential.  This tool will allow you to easily and quickly check on your team’s perceived psychological safety.  If the results illuminate some struggles in this area, best practice would be to replace the intended retrospective with an open discussion using one of our sticky note templates around the topic of Psychological Safety. You may think you don’t have time. But running a retrospective with a team that is lacking in psychological safety is a waste of time. It’s better to spend that designated time period on digging into the issue and rescheduling the original retrospective to another date and time.  

Using a Team Radar

Checking in with team members at the beginning of a retro can help everyone understand where other group members stand in terms of energy, confidence, happiness, or focus.  Running a quick Team Radar that assesses where people stand on one of these (or other factors that may affect the retrospective) will help people feel heard and understood while also helping the facilitator gauge morale and adjust the meeting  accordingly.  

Icebreakers and Energizers

Everyone has tight schedules these days, but a quick, fun, purposeful activity will help set the right tone.  Choose an Icebreaker if your team is just getting to know one another, it’s been awhile since you’ve all been together, or you just need to connect personally.  Choose an Energizer if your team seems sluggish, work has been more demanding than the norm lately, or if it’s late afternoon and the caffeine has worn off! For some other great id

The beginning of a retrospective can make or break the meeting so make sure that you spend a little time up front setting common goals, checking in with the team, and having some fun.  A few minutes up front for one of the activities above can improve  team participation and morale, leading to better outcomes and action plans. 

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