10 Retrospective Mistakes You Must Avoid (Especially #9)

1. Lack of Preparation

When you fail to prepare for your retrospective, you run the chance that your retrospective becomes disorganised, the meeting runs over and it creates a bad experience for you and your team. It would be much harder to convince team members that retrospectives are worth the time if they have not seen positive returns from it. 

To prepare for your retrospective, it can be as simple as planning:

  • Topic of the retrospective
  • Length of the meeting
  • The ice breaker activity (if any), main activity and closing activity (if any)
  • Breakout groups (if any and when)
  • Rules of engagement

2. You’re Dominating the Conversation

If you notice you’re the only person speaking most of the time, you might be dominating the conversation. This could hinder an open discussion and prevent team members from sharing their perspectives, especially if their perspectives are different from yours. 

Here are a some ways that could encourage your team to speak up more:

  • Encourage your team that you really want to hear from them, even if they have differing views
  • Use powerful questions to start the conversation
  • Let team members speak first
  • Listen intently to what’s being discussed
  • Listen more than you speak

3. Unsafe Environment

    When the team environment is unsafe, you would notice that team members may not speak their mind and share honest feedback. This would result in discussions where real issues are not being discussed and problems with the team keep occurring. 

    To establish a safe environment, try this:

    • Encourage team members to learn and ask questions, even if they might think those questions are fundamental or deemed “silly”
    • Allow team members to respectfully challenge each other
    • Encourage sharing of feedback
    • Thank team members when they share things that might be uncomfortable for you

    4. Allowing Blame and Finger-pointing

    When team members blame or finger-point at other teams or each other for the reasons of their issues, they may slip into venting sessions and find it harder to think of constructive solutions. 

    This can be mitigated by:

    • Ensuring one of the rules of engagement during a retrospective is that the team don’t blame or finger-point others 
    • Redirecting any conversation about who is at fault to solutions


    5. Lack of Focus

    When the retrospective lacks focus, it can lead to aimless discussions and ineffective outcomes. Meetings run overtime, making the team feel that the retrospective was a waste of time. The focus of the meeting can be improved by:

    • Send out an agenda days before the retrospective
    • Ensure the retrospective has a clear topic
    • Ensure the attendees are reminded of the topic when the retrospective ends
    • Prevent or limit discussion from deviating to different topics


    6. Surface Level Discussions

    When leaders don’t probe for root causes, the discussion can stay on the surface levels. The team will miss out on valuable insights and most likely, face recurring issues that go unresolved. 

    One technique to try could be using “5 Whys”. This activity helps the team to keep probing for “why”. Asking “why” questions 5 times can help the team to think deeper into their issues and also allow them to come up with better solutions.


    7. Lack of Facilitation Skills

    When the leader lacks facilitation skills, it can hinder the effectiveness of the retrospective. Facilitation skills like:-

    • Active listening
    • Powerful questions
    • Managing group dynamics
    • Summarising what was discussed
    • Redirect and help team focused on constructive actions


    8. No Action Items

    Ending a retrospective without action items is a major mistake as the whole point of a retrospective is for the team to come together to reflect and decide how they might do things differently to improve next time. 

    Team members will feel that the retrospective was a waste of time when team members brought their issues but not necessarily able to form concrete actions to take away.

    To mitigate this, it can be as simple as spending the last 10 minutes of your retrospective discussing 1-3 actions items as takeaways for the team to own.


    9. Not Following Through with Action Items

    Having action items after a retrospective is great but it’s not enough if there is no progress on the action items.  Teams that make this mistake find themselves coming to their retrospective with recurring issues or team members not taking the action items seriously because ownership of those action items are not taken seriously. 

    To follow through with action items, the leader could assign each action item to an owner. And part of owning an action item is being accountable for the action item and also leveraging the team to help progress the action item. To ensure following up with action items becomes a habit, it would be a good idea to spend extra time at the beginning of your next retrospective to follow up with previous action items.


    10. Boring Retrospective Formats

    Using the same retrospective format repeatedly can result in monotonous sessions and reduced engagement overtime. Retromat.org has many different activities to give you ideas on new things to try to inspire creativity.