facilitation fundamentals

Facilitation Fundamentals for Retrospectives

Today, I wanted to write about some flavors of a retro.  For example, how do you guide a team that doesn’t want to address the elephant? However, I realized something was missing.  How can I tackle the flavors when I haven’t discussed some facilitation fundamentals?  So let’s get back to the basics of retrospectives.

  • It’s always about them. Never enter the retro knowing what items the team will improve for next sprint.  That’s not your decision; it’s theirs.  A good scrum master will have ideas of where the team should grow.  A great scrum master will let them find their own way there.  Which leads me to my next tip.
  • You create the container; they create the conversation. Most of the time should be spent here as you prepare for the retro.  It’s your responsibility to find the right containers that allow the team to have the best discussions.  It’s here with my retro flavors that I take a deeper dive in future blog posts.
  • Practice good retro structure. Esther Derby has an outstanding model, and she writes about it in her book Agile Retrospectives.  The idea is that the conversation initially diverges with a growing list of ideas and then ultimately converges into no more than three items that team agrees to implement the following sprint.  If you don’t have time for all five stages, choose your stages wisely to take advantage of the team’s time.  You’ll see the stages titled in the visual below.


  • Change things up. Your team will tune out if every retro follows the same format.  Surprise them. Try new techniques.  Stretch yourself as a facilitator.  To help, here’s a great resource to help you grow your bag of tricks:  Retromat.
  • Every dysfunction is your dysfunction. Have you ever had a retro where a single team member dominates the conversation?  Or a retro where it felt like pulling teeth to get anyone to offer ideas or feedback?  It can be frustrating, but if you let the emotion get the better of you, it’ll affect the room.  I handle this situation by pointing the finger back at myself.  How am I failing that team member as the facilitator?  There must be some reason s/he is so vocal (or not), and there must be something I can do to help.  When I take responsibility for the situation, I begin using logic to tactically solve the problem instead of emotion to worsen it.

That’s all for now.  Now that facilitation fundamentals are behind us, I’ll be back again soon to write about some flavors of retros.  If you have some thoughts for what those flavors should be, comment here, and I’ll be sure to add them to my list.

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