As simple as 1, 2, 3: This is how I have been planning the retrospectives (or similar meetings) agenda. Basically, I follow three simple steps: (1) Set the context, (2) Behavioral priming, and (3) Select and run a sequence of activities.


Set the context

Why is this retrospective (or meeting) being held? What will it cover? Retrospectives, similarly to any other meeting, are more effective if the participants align their expectations before getting into it.

You can start with a predefined context or define it in real-time with the participants. But it must be clear to everyone – “This retrospective context is…”.

Below are some sample contexts:

  • In 14 days, our artifact should reach the main production stage.
  • Feature XYZ exploded in production, bringing the servers down for two hours until sysadmin could bring the older version back up.
  • We worked together in the past year and we will work together for another year to come.
  • This retrospective is a bi-weekly recurring scrum retrospective for the ABC team. We are on Sprint 12 out of 30.

Retrospective is just one kind of meeting. But all meetings benefit from having a clear context. Do make sure to share the context of your next meeting, and you’ll notice people more focused and effective on it.

Behavioral priming

In Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, Norm Kerth introduces the prime directive, a statement intended to set the stage for the retrospective. It says:

“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job he or she could, given what was known at the time, his or her skills and abilities, the resources available and the situation at hand”. – Retrospective prime directive

The statement is invaluable for setting the meeting tone. Make it visible to all participants, and read it out loud before running your retrospective activity.

Any meeting benefits from a behavioral priming statement. Following are two other prime directive sentences for team building and futurospective meetings, respectively:

“Cooperation is the act of working with others and acting together to accomplish a job. Team is a partnership of unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together. Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Team Building Prime Directive

 “Hope and confidence come from proper involvement and a willingness to predict the unpredictable. We will fully engage in this opportunity to unite around an inclusive vision, and join hands in constructing a shared future.” – Futurespectives Prime Directive

Consider priming about the expected behavior for any sort of meeting. The examples above have proved effective for letting people know what behavior is expected from them. You do expect some positive behaviors from your meeting participants. Do write it down and tell them about it. You’ll be surprised by the outcome.

Select and run a sequence of activities

A retrospective activity generates insights for continuous improvement. This is when you gather data, check on the team’s morale, talk about the positive stuff, recognize people and seek improvements. These activities drive the team to reflect about the given context, reinforce a shared vision and generate insights.

It is the time for team members to feel heard. Each important note is written down and acknowledged, so it is visible for the entire team. Shared notes will trigger conversations. Action items are created. Together, the team will look at different angles and perspectives, and raise the level of awareness.

Teams that have regular retrospectives as recurring meetings may want to look for alternative activities. By combining and varying activities, your team retrospectives will be fun, effective, and rewarding.

For selecting the retrospectives activities, I always look for one activity in each of these categories (in this sequence): energizer, checkin, main course, filtering and checkout.

But your meeting is not a retrospective?

The site is not only about retrospectives. It’ll also help you for team buildings or futurospectives meetings. But even if your meeting is neither of these, you still must think about activities to increase engagement and to achieve the expected meeting goals. Be creative and surprise your colleagues with a very effective activity for your next meeting.


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