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5 Things You Need To Know To Facilitate A Retrospective

It is common for agile teams to adopt a number of ceremonies, and usually they are chosen by team members.The purpose of each ceremony is specific and I shall now explore Retrospectives and the role of the facilitator in this kind of meeting. 

A Retrospective is a ceremony held at the end of each iteration in an agile project. The general purpose is to allow the team, as a group, to evaluate its past working cycle. In addition, it’s an important moment to gather feedback on what went well and what did not. Finally, retrospective is a moment for the team to define actions that may fix or improve things identified as negative.

The three items above convey the general purpose of the work a facilitator is supposed to perform in a retrospective. Nonetheless, retrospective is a good moment to assess other items important for the team and key to sucess, such as the team's self-esteem, its confidence regarding team, product and delivery and both mutual trust and focus of tension among the members.

The facilitator is key role in holding a sucessful retrospective. It is the facilitator's responsability to help the team keep the discussion focused and productive.

Thinking about the role and responsabilities of a retrospective facilitator, I came up with a list of 5 important reminders for an unexperienced facilitator:

  1. Be transparent: the facilitator should make it clear for everyone, in the beginning of the ceremony, that it is a moment to assess good and bad thing about the last working cycle. Repeating that every session may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not. That is the only way to make sure everyone is clear about the purpose of the meeting. To guarantee that the team is open and at ease to share their views is something fundamental for the success of a retrospective.
  2. Focus on the objective of a retrospective: the facilitator must guide the team in figuring out what were the most important things that happened during the iteration. Make it clear. To conduct such analysis with the team is one of the roles of a facilitator.
  3. Listen to your team: allow the team to speak about what happened. Not to interrupt the line of thought of whoever is speaking is something fundamental. Not to communicate with speaking person without sensitivity and care. Also, take notes of relevant issues raised by the team. By doing that, you communicate to team that you are on their side.
  4. Act: encourage your team to come up with action items to deal with situations that were not good in the iteration. To show the team that obstacles must be collectively overcomed is essential to keep everybody united and focused in the final results of the project. One suggestion that might be useful is to choose a champion for each action item defined by the group.
  5. Be an aggregator: don’t create the mood of “witch hunt” for problems found for the team. Keep in mind and make it clear for them that the objective of this moment is try to identify and not let the same problems occur again. Be a contributor, aggregate and try to stimulate a mood of resilience for your team members. 

For you that's starting to study more about this theme, I recommend the material that is in here. If you want to do your retrospective in a different and funny way, there is this great material by ThoughtWorkers Paulo Caroli e Tainã Caetano.

Lastly, the improvement cycle is applicable for you too! Enjoy and use this to get feedbacks at the end of ceremony about your performance as a facilitator. Keep in mind that you can also evolve in your role and surely your team will contribute (a lot) to this.