Team Reflection: Examples & Guidance for Running Team Retrospectives

September 17, 2021

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Reflecting on our experiences and avoiding situations we don’t want to repeat is part of being human. Our ability to think about the world around us and our actions is how we’ve learned, survived, and evolved as a species. 

But it's also how we develop in the workplace.

Being able to reflect and apply critical thinking is the cornerstone of meaningful learning, which is why team reflections, or retrospectives, are crucial when it comes to developing high-performing teams. 

When teams reflect together they gain better insights and understanding of both the positives and negatives of a process or project. It creates a form of cohesive understanding that helps team members connect, coordinate, and align their work. Team reflection helps build collective intelligence.

Reflection, however, is one of the hardest tasks for leaders to implement and do well, and it can be nigh on impossible when you’re leading a remote team. It takes an experienced leader to develop the art of reflection and implement it into the team’s regular meeting cadence.

But that’s not to say it can’t be done. 

In this article, we’ll explore team reflection more in depth, we’ll provide guidance on how to run a retrospective meeting - both in person and remotely, as well as share a retrospective meeting agenda template for your managers to use.

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What is a team reflection?

Team reflections, otherwise known as team retrospectives (or team retros), happen when a team spends time collectively reflecting on the work they've done, and how effectively they worked as a team. 

These meetings provide all team members with an opportunity to discuss what worked and what didn't, either at the end of a project or at the end of a sprint. 

It also enables teams to address specific problems and share learnings, using this insight to identify actions and behaviors that the team, along with the manager that leads them, want repeated, adapted, or avoided.

During retrospective meetings, it can also be beneficial to reflect on documented agreements like your team purpose, goals, organizational principles, or team behaviors.

When it comes to the length and frequency of team reflection meetings, it can vary. That said, many teams will look to complete the retrospective meeting within an hour, and often these meetings will be held either on a monthly basis, or at the end of a specific project.

How to run a retrospective meeting

First things first, there isn’t a wrong way to reflect. A retro can be as simple as coming up with a Stop, Start, Continue based on what’s been effective and led the team to success thus far, or prevented the team from achieving success. 

‍But if your team is new to retrospectives, some more guidance can go a long way. Here are 8 questions for your managers to ask during their next retrospective. 

These team reflection questions are applicable for almost any scenario: important events, specific projects, different areas of your team’s work or even processes.

(Example retrospective template from the Saberr platform)

How to reflect with a remote or hybrid team

Regardless of whether the team is office-based, remote, or a mix of the two, it’s still possible to carry out a remote retrospective over Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or your video conferencing platform of choice. Just make sure everyone turns their cameras on.

When it comes to team reflections, remote or otherwise, the important thing to remember is that everyone in attendance has the opportunity to share their thoughts, within the allocated time that is. We'd therefore recommend that managers (or the team member leading the meeting) encourages all team members to contribute ahead of the meeting. 

If you're not already using a tool such as Saberr that can facilitate these retrospective meetings, we'd recommend that your managers ask team members to add their thoughts to a shared Google Doc, so that this can be used to guide the discussion. 

Retrospective meeting agenda example

As we’ve mentioned above, there’s no one way to hold team reflections. However, having a retrospective meeting agenda template to help structure the meeting will ensure the meeting is as productive as it can be. 

A basic agenda outline might be:

  1. Setting the stage
  2. Opening the retro
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Decide on actions
  5. Wrapping up the meeting

So what does that look like in practice? Below is one such retrospective example your managers might use:

1. Setting the stage for a team reflection

Make sure everyone attending the team retro is aware of what type of meeting it is. That way, they are prepared to reflect on past events, rather than stumble into reflection blind. 

Better still, encourage attendees to start preparing for the retrospective ahead of time, as this will help keep the meeting focused and concise.

In the meeting itself, ensure everyone is singing off the same song sheet quickly by running through the actions the team decided on from the last retrospective. This way, everyone begins the meeting thinking analytically about events that have occurred, the process, and performance. 

If you have a new team, an icebreaker exercise can be a great way to kick off the meeting. Not only does it get everyone’s creative juices flowing, it also lowers inhibition, giving all participants confidence to speak up later in the meeting.

As an example, managers should choose one icebreaker question and have everyone answer it - without overthinking it. Examples of icebreaker questions include:

  • If you could pick up a new skill instantly, what would it be?
  • Tell a story about your shoes
  • If you had to give a 10 minute presentation immediately, what would it be on?
  • What makes you nostalgic?

Once everyone has relaxed, give them the context for why the team is having the retrospective so that everyone understands the purpose of the meeting. This may include:  

  • What the purpose of the meeting is
  • What you are reviewing
  • What the ideal outcomes are
2. Opening the team retro

Now everyone is ready to reflect, ask for ideas and observations about the last sprint’s process or performance:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did the team learn?
  • Where did the team fall short?

Now isn’t the time for solving these issues, now is the time to reflect and identify major successes or concerns. 

3. Brainstorming

Now is the time to dig deep and brainstorm the possible cause for the problems. There’s no point fighting fires if you don’t solve the root cause. 

To unearth the answers, ask Why to the above questions:

  • Why did X go well?
  • Why didn't Y go so well?
  • Why did the team learn from Z?
  • Why did the team fall short doing X?

It’s worth pointing out that it’s all too easy to identify success, but when it comes to things that didn’t work, avoid finger pointing and apportioning blame. Instead, managers need to referee and keep the conversation moving on when it might otherwise turn into a blame game.

4. Decide on actions

After brainstorming, the team should have a lengthy list of problems and potential solutions. But it's not feasible for all of them to be implemented. 

Instead, narrow down the action wishlist to just a few key solutions to make it much easier for everyone to follow through with the action. 

To narrow the list down, give every team member three votes. They each mark their top three priorities on the lengthy list they’ve just brainstormed. The ones with the most votes are the ones the team will work on.

With the top two or three options identified, assess their feasibility. 

  • What changes do the team need to make to allow room to implement the solution?
  • Will doing so overextend the team? It’s better to do one thing well than spread the team too thin.
5. Wrap up the meeting

When you’re done, don’t just leave the retro meeting, make sure that all knowledge and ideas voiced during the meeting are captured for use later. 

  • Assign someone to create a meeting summary. 
  • Distil everything that happened down to a few takeaways. 
    • What was the original desired outcome for the meeting? 
    • What was learned? 
    • What actions were decided?
    • What direction will the team go in post meeting?
    • Who’s responsible for what? 
    • What deadlines have been set?

This way, everyone on the team is aware of what has been decided upon and what their responsibilities are. 

Store the document somewhere centrally so that everyone has access to it. 

And that’s it - an easy way to conduct a team retrospective.

Tips for making retrospectives a habit

Given the positive impact these meetings can have on teamwork, managers need to get into the habit of running team retrospectives on a regular basis.

But what does this look like?

1. Embed reflection into existing scheduled meetings

While we would recommend that managers are setting aside dedicated time to reflect with their teams - even if only on a monthly or quarterly basis - they may also want to consider making time for reflection in existing team meetings.

2. Reflection works best when team members trust each other

Being truthful is the key to good reflection. The problem is, some people may find it difficult speaking out against groupthink and to question team assumptions. In fact, often they're afraid of negative repercussions. 

Ensuring good levels of psychological safety in your teams is therefore crucial. After all, it's only once an individual feels safe in the knowledge that they can share their concerns or objections without fear of any negative consequences that real teamwork can happen. 

Not sure where to start? Have a read of our practical advice on how you can improve the levels of psychological safety in your teams

3. Find a time that works and stick to it

Doing something at the same time can make it easier to build a habit. So, just as with any other type of meeting your managers lead, it's important that they're creating a good cadence for these team retrospectives. 

As an example, at Saberr we run an hour-long team retro on the final Friday of every month. Sure, there are times we need to reschedule, but even in those instances we always make sure it runs as close to that date as possible. We'd recommend that you do something similar. 

Final thoughts on leading team reflections

If managers are nervous about leading team reflections, reassure them that retrospectives are an easy way to improve team performance. Retros build trust and foster team spirit as the team becomes more accustomed to openly discussing issues, problems, and success. 

Team reflections allow team managers to keep one step ahead by identifying issues and risks early. They empower the team, improving collaboration and inspiring ownership of the decisions taken. Plus, they increase team productivity by identifying activities which aren’t drivers for success.

Support your managers and help them improve team reflections with Saberr. Give them the confidence to lead their teams in reflection by equipping them with the knowledge and tools they require to coach their teams. 

To see how our software works take a look at this, or alternatively book in for a call with our team.

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