Short for retrospective, a “retro” is an opportunity to reflect on the recent past and optimise for the future. Commonly used by Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley tech startups, retrospectives are a powerful way to optimise a remote team’s effectiveness.
Without the casual water cooler chats or gripe sessions that happen organically in an office environment, issues affecting a team’s performance and morale might go unnoticed until it’s too late. The best way to prevent that kind of pain is by making an effort to uncover problem areas while they’re still easy to address.
It’s important to note that a retro should be a constructive session and a positive learning experience. To avoid retros becoming blaming sessions or monotonous, this retro meeting formula can help your team express their views with more safety and engagement. Promoting psychological safety in your remote team will help to ensure people feel comfortable to share their honest thoughts and opinions; leading to a higher functioning and more effective team.
What is the goal of this meeting?
Evaluate the past working cycle – with the entire team – with the aim of generating insights to help optimise how the team works together.
What tools will I need for this meeting?
Web conferencing tool and a collaboration platform that supports stickies.
How much time should I set aside?
You will need about 1–1.5 hours to complete this session. Note that the length of your retro meetings will be determined by the number of team members and how new the team is.
When should I host a retro?
Retros are a great way for a project lead to assess the effectiveness of their teams. Retros can happen at the end of a work sprint, the end of a product iteration or at regular intervals throughout a project. If your team is losing momentum and not meeting deadlines, if sub-tasks did not go as planned, or if there is misalignment between project leads, a retro can help get you back on track.
It’s a good idea to prepare your retro document ahead of time and then share the document link in the meeting agenda. For this example, we have used Google Slides as our collaboration tool.
SET THE SCENE | 5 minutes
As the meeting facilitator, remind participants of the meeting purpose and then explain the process of filling in the GLAD, SAD, MAD, KUDOS stickies. Explain that participants can copy and paste their sticky notes into the relevant sections or slides.
Some people are very outspoken, while others are quiet and observe more. Keep mental notes as to who hasn’t contributed much and make a point to draw them into the conversation to the extent they’re comfortable.
GLAD | 5 minutes (silence)
You could start with any of the Glad, Sad or Mad slides but in our experience, it can be helpful to start off with some positive thoughts about the project. Allow participants 5 minutes of silence to reflect back on the project and type a word/phrase or sentence to describe something positive or something that made them glad.
DISCUSS GLAD | 10 minutes
Once your team has filled in a satisfactory number of GLAD stickies in the allotted time, it’s important to discuss and unpack what the team has put down. If anything written down is unclear, this gives your teammates a chance to elaborate and clarify on what they have to say.
SAD + MAD | 10 minutes (silence)
Now your team has an idea of what to do, it can save some time to do both SAD and MAD sections at once. Allow your team 10 minutes of silence to reflect back and fill in their frustrations and project pain points.
DISCUSS SAD + MAD | 10 minutes
At this point, it would be a good idea to ask them if they notice any pattern emerging from the stickies. Often, a pain-point experienced by one team member is also experienced by another; so it is likely that your teammate’s stickies will be repetitive. These patterns or repetitions can help you identify next-actions or ways to optimise your process. Starting with SAD, identify as a team where the patterns are and then get one or two team members to sort the stickies into groups.
KUDOS | 5 minutes (silence)
To ensure the session doesn’t end on a sour note, it’s important to give time for kudos. This is where your team will call out a champion team member and celebrate a particular effort on the project.
DISCUSS KUDOS | 5 minutes
Allow your teammates 5 minutes to share their celebrations and props with each other and to elaborate on the ways this contributed positively to their project experience. A little peer-to-peer recognition is a great way to end your retro on a positive note.
ACTIONS | 15 minutes
This is an opportunity for the team to discuss solutions and to make necessary adjustments to project processes and your Culture Canvas (an essential tool for remote teams). As the team solves a challenge or agrees on a way forward, this is recorded as an action. These actions should ensure elimination of the frustration and pain-points experienced in the project so far.
CLOSING | 5 minutes
Spend the final 5 minutes of the meeting ensuring that everyone has had their say, that everyone is aligned with the next steps, and that any changes to processes or ways of working have been clearly communicated. Ask if anyone has final questions or comments. And finally, acknowledge your team’s participation and express gratitude for special contributions.