Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Feel Good Retrospective

If you're not careful, retrospectives can sometimes feel like work or routine for your team. Chances are that if you see the retrospective on your calendar and think to yourself "ugh, another retrospective," that your team is saying the same among themselves. This is a sure indication of the need to freshen things up.

A problem with freshening up your retrospective format is that many of them are pretty derivative. How many times have you tried to find a new format and come up with the "pretend your team is a hot air balloon or pretend your team is a boat" type of retrospective? Not very original and you're not fooling the team by changing your boat into a rocket ship. It's the same exercise.

Most retrospectives end up with the team being told to identify some problems and a solution or two for these problems. Yay. We all get it.

Having felt like this over our past few retrospectives I did lots of research to find something, anything, different. Lo and behold I came across a retrospective format on respected Agile evangelist and speaker Ben Linders' website.

It's called the Core Qualities retrospective which focuses on identifying each team's members strengths and then aligning them with problems your team is facing.

While we didn't come away with any takeaways (we ran out of time and I'm a stickler for schedule), I feel like this was one of our most enjoyable and beneficial retrospectives ever. In my almost five years at, I can't recall a time during a retrospective that our team members smiled and laughed so much. I found myself also grinning ear-to-ear as we went around and talked about the qualities we appreciate in one another.

People simply don't get enough praise and appreciation in their lives (especially at work) and this exercise was really powerful for the team. I can honestly say that despite the fact that no problems were surfaced and no solutions provided our team came out of that room as tighter-knit group. It may sound sappy, but there you have it.

Here is our tangible output:

How can you not feel good about seeing words like that under your name? (BTW I got helpful, organized, concerned, disciplined, flexible.... not bad for a ScrumMaster ;) )

So if your team is feeling a bit burned out on retrospectives I highly suggest giving this one a shot and your team will be able to reestablish why you all work together. You've got nothing to lose and I assure you that your team members will feel appreciated. What more do we want at work?


  1. Thanks Tim for applying my retrospective exercise on core qualities in your retrospective. I feel honored!

    This is a great exercise for team members to recognize strengths of each other and to give praise. Which makes it a team building and a problem solving technique, since the strengths can be used to address any issue the team having. Teams might also decide to further improve specific strengths, to go from good to great to outstanding.

    Note that I added a link to your blog in the exercise description, so that people can read how this can work out in practice :-).

    Thanks for sharing the results of using this exercise in your blog post!

    1. Thanks again Ben. The goal was to complete the exercise as you described but we ran out of time because everyone was being very thoughtful in their assigning of qualities to their peers.

      I'm looking forward to trying this again but going the full distance.


  2. Sounds logical. Looking forward to read about the results :-)

  3. Hey Tim, your excercise inspired me to modify the Sailboat Retro: I have added the question "How does your fellow sailor help you?" People appreciated in small groups (3-4 people) how they help each other like "I like how you develop your dev role and contribute to the self-organization of the team by ..."