Our Go-to Resources for Running Retrospectives

2018 may have come to a close, but out of sight should not mean out of mind. Whether it’s to close out the year, a client project or the past month, retrospectives (retros) or debriefs are pivotal for providing the space to reflect, learn and improve upon your work.

We frequently get asked by our clients for both formats and tools we like to use in our retros, and over time we’ve collected a bit of a list. So, to help you kick 2019 off right, here are some of our favorite go-to resources for running our retros.

Tools + Resources

Team Retrospectives: The Good, The Bad, The Feels

Erin Lamberty breaks down for you the supplies, considerations and best practices you should keep in mind when running your retro. In this post, she also provides an easy-to-use format, with accompanying agenda, which we commonly use in our own team retros.

Facilitating Team Debriefs: How to End the Year on the Right Note

TDG Co-founder Andy Hagerman shares a few formats that work great if you’re tight on time, but want your team feeling heard, confident in what’s to come, and clear on what they learned.

Year-end Solo Reflection

Retros don’t always have to be a group activity, and even when they are, you should definitely build in the time for solo reflection. TDG Lead Trainer and Founder of The Group Forward put together this amazing worksheet to help guide you through a solo reflection on your experience from the past year.

Fun Retrospectives

One of our go-to resources for activities and ideas for making retrospectives more engaging.

A Lookbook for Emotion-Centered Design

When going into your retros (or any of your work for that matter), it’s easy to focus on actions and outcomes. But, digging deeper to understand the emotions, psychology and backgrounds of the individuals behind those actions and outcomes can prove to not only be super powerful, but also game changing. We LOVE this lookbook from Matter-Mind Studio. It’s filled with tons of great tools and methods to help you uncover that deeper understanding and address it productively moving forward.

The Art of Focused Conversation

A helpful resource—and one of our top recommended reads all year round—to guide you through more meaningful conversations with colleagues.

Bug / Smug List

Running a retro that’s framed around your org or team’s current resources? Our very own Timothy Moore recommends using the Bug / Smug List from the University Innovation Fellows’ Teaching and Learning Studio at Stanford University. It’s a great tool for replacing run-of-the-mill language with something more playful.


Make it Visual

By visually capturing important information from your debrief, you can highlight top learnings and create an artifact that you can reflect back to in the coming year, the next month or during your next project.

Check out Sunni Brown’s article, The Miseducation of the Doodle for a great how-to guide to get you started.

Make it Relevant

Though retros can sometimes lean into heavier topics, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun. Try seasonal concepts: What has sprung up for you, what is cold, what is coming in hot/give you heat/making you sweat, what has fallen away, etc.

We recently had a Thanksgiving-themed, team monthly retro that got pretty goofy and used an extensive amount of holiday puns, but the creativity and break from the seriousness helped put the team in a more open mindset.

Get Creative When it’s Hard to Find the Time

Having trouble getting everyone in one room at the same time? Frequently, there are times where no one from our team is in the office. Rather than skip the retro, we each do solo, personal reflection whenever it makes sense for us—coffee, lunch, on an airplane, grabbing a beer at local bar—and then share our top highlights and learnings with the entire team. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create a shared digital space (Google Docs, Slack channel, etc.) where team members can share their reflections on their own time.
  • Send out a prompt. (Examples: What’s one thing you’ve learned over the past month? How are you going to try to adopt this learning? How might we all benefit from this knowledge?)
  • Encourage a format and space that works best for each person.

The rest is up to each person! It’s a great way for the team to stay connected even when we’re not together.

Have Fun

Not everyone on your team is going to geek out with excitement when they see it’s time for a team retro. The Book of Awesome is a fun resource to help inspire you and your team to don your awesome goggles and look for the awesome in life. It’s a great ritual to bake into your team retros.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg—there are a ton of ways to run a team retro. Like with all of our resource and reading lists, our hope is to have this be a living post. Got a good tool or piece of advice that didn’t make the list? Share it below in the comments or shoot it over to us at [email protected]

The Design Gym
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