5 Ways To Revive Stale Retrospectives

Posted on May 10, 2012


Recovering from a series of stale Retrospectives is not easy.  People tend to become very cynical, very quickly when they get bored or when they believe their time is being wasted.  For that reason, to break these people out of their Retrospective funk, you need to shake things up a bit.  There is an endless list of things you can do to accomplish your recovery mission.  I am going to tell you about 5 things I have done to take my Retrospectives from stale and boring to energetic and productive.

Change Location

Move your Retrospectives to a new location.  If your team always holds their Retrospective in their team room, move them to a different room.  If you have nice weather, take your team outside for the meeting.  If the weather turns bad, take your team to an open, airy, well-lit restaurant.  It isn’t as important where you take your team; it is only important that you change their surroundings.  The environment that you are in has a sizable impact on your conscious and subconscious mind.  The simple act of changing the location of your meeting can drastically change the mindset your team enters the Retrospective with.  This may sound too simple or silly, but this has worked for me on countless occasions.  To break the cycle of stale Retrospectives, your fist step should be to change your team’s surroundings.

Play Games

I love using games for Retrospective activities.  Nothing creates energy and enthusiasm in a team like a good game.  The best part about using games is that they only loosely need to be associated with the Retrospective goal.  If you can find a game to play for the first twenty minutes of your meeting, whether it is valuable to the Retrospective or not, then you have created the energy and enthusiasm you need to deliver a great Retrospective.  Luckily, most of the time, you can find games that are applicable to your goal.  Here are a few resources that I have used to find relevant games for most any Retrospective…

Create a Campaign

Many times, Retrospectives lose momentum and become stale because the requests for action and support from outside the team fall on deaf ears.  This gives the team the feeling of despair and a ‘what’s the point’ mindset begins to take hold.  So, what do you do?  The support the team needs must come from outside the team’s sphere of influence.  My answer; Start a campaign.  Turn your Retrospectives into campaign strategy sessions.  Identify key measurements and devise compelling arguments to be used to make your case.  Discuss what each person can contribute to the campaign.  Use big visible charts, emails, fliers, presentations, and one-on-ones.  Seek out the support of other teams and work to build a following of supporters.  This can be an extremely energizing activity for the team.  After all, we cannot control the actions of others, we can only hope to influence them based on our own actions.  Building a campaign brings the ‘action’ back within the team, and that’s what we need to have happen to continue having productive Retrospectives.

Bring Food

A little food goes a long way.  This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant.  Bringing cookies, brownies, or mini candy bars usually does the trick.  You could also do your Retrospective over lunch and have food catered in.  There is something about sitting around a table eating that seems to bring energy and honest feedback into the room.  I know one thing with certainty, if your team is hungry, your Retrospective is going to suffer.


This may not be reasonable for everyone, but for those who have the opportunity to have a few adult beverages during your Retrospective, do so.  You will instantly increase the level of participation and energy in the room.  Now, to be clear, I am not telling you to get your team wasted.  However, a beer or two can go a long way to relax the tension and open people up to provide honest feedback.  The relaxed state achieved with a beer may also help your team think beyond the constraints of the workplace and generate some inspiring insights.  Small doses of alcohol can achieve the same mental state that you find yourself in when taking a relaxing bath, when everything begins to clear from your brain and in that same instant, you have an epiphany.  The difference is that you will now be able to shout out your epiphany to be vetted and compounded by your teammates.  Sometimes you need to lubricate conversation to move your team beyond the same stale Retrospective discussions.