Why Retrospectives Should Be In Every Manager’s Toolkit

In the arts, a retrospective is a career review. One might take in the Andy Warhol retrospective at MoMA or the Stanley Kubrick retrospective downtown. In business, a retrospective is also a sort of review, but with the focus on assessing progress and problems and determining next steps.

It’s been standard practice in software development for decades, and in recent years, with the spread of agile development, it’s moved into other fields. We’ve found retrospectives to be an incredible tool for remote teams, helping boost engagement and morale, improve workflows, drive collaboration, clear roadblocks, and deliver better results.

The key difference between a retrospective and a regular call or group discussion is obvious in the first few minutes. With a retrospective, the agenda is determined by the participants. Everyone gets equal time to capture the topics that are important to them. Most importantly, regular retrospectives give everyone the chance to shape team performance and success.

Retrospectives often work better online because, for most people, typing words into a laptop is a much lower barrier to entry than speaking out in front of colleagues. As a result, more opinions are shared, more voices are heard, and more value is generated.

Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Schedule a 90-minute call and invite the whole team or department.
  2. Make sure everybody is familiar with the online platform that will host the meeting. We’ve tested Miro against other options and found that it consistently excels.
  3. Let attendees know in advance they’ll be answering some questions. You should tailor these to your work and the goal of the call, but we like:
    • What have we been doing well/poorly? How might we change?
    • What might we start or stop doing? What should we continue to do?
    • What are your main challenges, hurdles, roadblocks?
  1. Attendees spend 10-12 minutes writing their responses within the platform.
  2. The host or facilitator, preferably from outside the department or team, reads the responses aloud, opening each up to broader group discussion.
  3. Afterward, key takeaways, lessons learned, decisions made and actions to be taken are highlighted in a summary to be shared with management.


For larger teams and departments, it’s best to break into groups of eight to 10 people and hold a retrospective for each. This ensures enough time to air everybody’s views, delivering a more comprehensive overview. You might also set a time limit for each discussion or limit the number of items attendees can highlight in their responses, such as four per person.

This keeps that overzealous marketing associate from monopolizing the entire call and encourages people to focus more on their primary concerns rather than hurriedly jotting down anything that crosses their minds. Another option for large teams is to ask participants to submit their topics beforehand so the facilitator has a chance to go through them and eliminate repetition. Just be sure not to censor; negative views often drive company success.

Last but not least, the facilitator needs to be gentle yet able to keep hold of the reins. The discussion must stay focused on performance and progress, hurdles, and roadblocks in terms of workflow and processes, without veering into personal issues or what the project aims to deliver and why. A skilled facilitator will know how to subtly keep the conversation on track.

We recommend recording the discussion to enable the host to focus on facilitation and attendees to focus on contributing. A successful retrospective will generate so much feedback that care must be taken to properly filter it and capture the best bits. What new discoveries were made? How did the team decide to get around that emerging hurdle? The key steps, lessons, and takeaways should be clearly laid out in a detailed summary.

We instituted regular retrospectives a few years ago and have been incredibly pleased with the results. We’ve found them to be the perfect opportunity to step back, assess, and make course corrections as needed. Time and time again, a retrospective has put a project or team quietly listing toward disaster back on course, and it’s impossible to put a dollar value on that.



This article was first published as an Author Post on Forbes.com



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