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Ingo Kallenbach

Leadership in an agile world (5): retrospectives

How you can continuously improve teamwork and establish an open feedback culture with retrospectives

The fifth part of our series is dedicated to an agile method, which is a partial aspect of scrum. The retrospective serves to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of teamwork between the sprint review and the planning of the next sprint. This technique can also be used in many ways as an independent, agile method.

Read how this method works in detail and how you can continuously improve the cooperation of team members during an ongoing project by using it.

What are retrospectives?

Essentially, retrospectives are feedback tools that focus on the following questions: "How well do we work together? How do we get along as a team? What can we improve?" In order to analyse these and other points and develop appropriate solutions, the members of a team meet at regular intervals to learn together from past cooperation. In this way a continuous improvement of the teamwork is to be achieved.

Especially in heterogeneous project teams, where the members have a very different wealth of experience, feedback discussions involve some challenges. Some often do not dare to openly point out the weaknesses and strengths of others. Most of them simply lack the knowledge about how a feedback dialogue should be designed in a meaningful and constructive way. The "Retrospective" primarily represents a protected space for the team in which internal problems can be openly discussed. In many cases, however, it can also make sense to expand the number of participants. In this way, the "Retrospective" offers a methodical framework for a fair and constructive exchange about past events and behaviour outside of daily routine.



How do "retrospectives" work?

In most cases, retrospectives take place regularly every 2-4 weeks. It often makes sense to hold additional meetings at longer intervals, for example every 3-6 months. The frequency should be adapted to both the project and the needs of the team members. The retrospective should be moderated by a neutral person who keeps an eye on compliance with the "Retrospective Prime Directive", which essentially creates a safe space for feedback and at the same time prevents the participants from being blamed. The process is divided into the following 5 phases:

Phase 1: "Set the Stage"

The participants are prepared for the meeting and the general conditions are explained. It is important to create a fearless, energetic atmosphere in which everyone is encouraged to be open and honest with themselves and others.

Phase 2: "Gather data"

Next, information is collected by asking the participants, for example, how they felt the team working together. At the end of the phase, the most important points are focused for further processing.

Phase 3: "Derive insights"

Subsequently, suggestions for improvement are derived from the collected information. The main aim here is to understand why problems have arisen, what lies behind them and how they can be solved in concrete terms.

Phase 4: "Determine actions"

In this phase it is decided which approaches are to be implemented in practice. The acceptance of the solution approaches by the team is particularly important here. Everyone should be made aware that these are preliminary and must first be tried out.

Phase 5: "Close"

Finally, a retrospective is drawn from the retrospective. In order to subject these themselves to a continuous improvement process, the course and the result of the meeting are evaluated by the participants.

Improve your projects with retrospectives

Often retrospectives are also held in non-agile companies after the completion of a project in the form of time-consuming meetings. In contrast, retrospectives in agile environments are short team meetings during an ongoing project. In this way, everything that is worked out during the meetings can flow directly into the active project. In this way you achieve a continuous improvement of the cooperation during the running process. By creating a protected space where topics can be addressed openly, the accumulation of frustration is avoided and team spirit is strengthened. Fair and constructive feedback in the retrospective thus has a positive influence on the course of the project.

In addition, you can establish an open feedback culture (link to culture) in your company. Even if you still prefer the classical methods of project management, this method can be integrated without problems. For example, set fixed dates for team meetings every 14 days, during which you ask the participants about the current situation and the course of the collaboration so far. "Retrospectives" can thus represent a first step towards agility.


Retrospectives are easy to conduct and take less time than conventional meetings. In order to be able to carry out successful retrospectives in the long term, a healthy corporate culture must first and foremost be established in which an encounter at eye level and constructive criticism are a matter of course.

(Editorial realization: Corinna Brucker)

Are you interested in retrospectives or would you like to learn more about this method? Then please inform yourself further about our services in this area or simply contact us.


Further blog posts from the series "Leadership in an agile world":

Leading in an agile world (1): the concept of agility

Leadership in an agile world (2): "working out loud"

Leadership in an agile world (3): scrum

Leadership in an agile world (4): barcamps

Leadership in an agile world (5): retrospectives

Leadership in an agile world (6): peer feedback

Leadership in an agile world (7): transparency

Leadership in an agile world (8): Delegation Poker

Leadership in an agile world (9): crossfunctional teams

Leadership in an agile world (10): face time



Kallenbach, Ingo (2016): Leadership in a healthy organisation. Extraordinary performance by means of potential development. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel