10 Tips to Lead Successful Remote Retrospectives


Let’s face the reality, all the agile methodologies weren’t exactly created with distributed teams in mind. All the early agile teams were overwhelmingly co-located in offices, mainly because chat, video conferencing, and other technology that makes the remote work possible were highly laughable and ancient at that time.  

Ever since the pandemic, so many people are working remotely, gathering all your global team at the same doesn’t seem too realistic. However, that does not mean that remote retrospectives are impossible, the technique is just a bit different, but you got this! Or at least we will make sure that you do.

A retrospective is an exceptional opportunity to learn and enhance at the end of a sprint or a repetition. It’s your moment to reflect upon your practices and see where you could improve based on past events. If a team can run effective remote retrospectives, it will eventually grow and improve its effectiveness when it comes to accomplishing tasks and building value.

Running a regular retrospective is highly important for distributed teams. Without the usual lunch-hour chit-chat or daily office gossip that happens in an organic office environment, these issues might affect the team performance and employee morale. These matters often go unnoticed, however not anymore.

Let’s learn all about remote retrospectives and tips to lead a successful one.

What is a remote retrospective?

 A remote retrospective is known as a remote-friendly variation of the old-school agile retrospective, in scrum technology. For instance, in Scrum, there are precise moments of reviewing progress, planning, learning, and improving. Scrum retrospective allows looking behind on the sprint that passed and seeing what went well to continue doing it.

The goal is to reflect upon what is working well vs. what isn’t, then eventually with that in mind, determine how they can improve. It is a classic continuous improvement that duplicates your successes and learns from your failures. It can be defined as an intimate moment of honesty whenever we grow as a team.

A remote retrospective shows where all the participants do not face to face in the same meeting room, however, connected remotely with the assistance of digital communications such as MS Teams, Meet, Zoom, and Phone.

Here’s what you need to prepare for the remote retrospective

  1. Decide upon the theme of the retrospective environment.
  2. Next, set up the digital board of the retrospective using an online tool, you can prepare a sharable link that is super easy to access for all the participants.
  3. Gather as much data and information as you can. This data will assist the entire scrum team to learn about the things that were nicely executed as well as their sources. The data will help the team in making better decisions, it must remain accessible to everyone in a clear format. Members can visualize the metrics and understand how they were gathered.

Let’s discuss the top tips to lead successful remote retrospectives.

1. Make sure you have the right candidates in the room

One of the first and most important factors to ensuring that you’re retrospective is successful, such as everyone in the room feels like it was a productive use of time, is to have the right candidates in the room – of course, by room we mean virtual spaces.

Anyone who participated in or was affected by this should be invited to the retrospective about that event. To truly understand what happened, what went well, what did not execute etc. you must gain deep perspectives of everyone involved in the virtual space.

2. Make retrospectives a tradition

As a protagonist leading a large remote team, you need as many opportunities to discuss things with your team as possible. Ensure that you are including retrospectives in your regular team agenda, with a consistency that works the best for you and your team. Such as based on your business category, you can run retro every few weeks, at the end of each quarter.

Place placeholders in your member’s and teammates’ calendars well in advance so they can be super prepared for the retrospective and think about all the things they want to discuss.


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3. Make sure everyone understands what the retro is all about

This tip might seem a bit obvious, however, make sure that everyone attending your remote retrospective space is aware of exactly what you are doing and what is being discussed in the meeting and especially the reasons for it.

Instead of naming any event as retrospective over every member’s calendar, get a specific title such as retrospective on X feature launch, then you can follow it up with a description alongside an invite as well. Explain the purpose of the retrospective and encourage participants to invite other members or anyone who would like to contribute.

4. Select the right facilitator


Selecting a successful remote retrospective requires the right candidate for the job. In some cases, there might be a person who cares the most about the topic at hand, or just a person who is brilliant at facilitating conversations on your team.

In other cases, such as if the event was big enough and there were a number of feelings involved, it can be quite helpful to bring in the non-prejudiced party to cater and initiate the discussion in the first place. In such incidents, having somebody from the outside as a facilitator can assist to keep the conversation focused and pretty disciplined.

5. Run stop, start, and continue in breakout sessions

Run, stop, start session is one of the most popular concepts in retrospectives, it is a classic method that helps teams to improve. In this method, teams have to identify the things they should immediately stop doing, start doing or continue to do the way they were done before in order to reach their milestones.

For instance, you can split a team into groups of 5-6 people, each group will be given 20 minutes time to discuss things that they should stop immediately, start or simply continue doing. After a brief discussion, ask your team to answer a few simple questions for themselves,

  • Are there things you should stop doing?
  • Are there things you should start doing?
  • What are the things you must continue as they are?

There are two main purposes for doing retrospectives with this concept, firstly, if people discuss first, then write down their feelings as a group, it gives more insight and relevant insights. Secondly, breakout sessions are always pretty rejuvenating, people have the space to talk to their colleagues and be super active, as opposed to just passively listening to what is happening on the virtual call.

6. Maintain a good balance between what went well and what can be improved

A good facilitator will always encourage participation from everyone in the room. However, first, they must ensure that everyone feels comfortable being in that room. One of the helpful tips is to start the meeting by reminding everyone of the purpose and basic understanding of the retrospective.

The purpose is not only to talk about the things that could be improved but also to acknowledge, recognize and congratulate members for the things that went well. Most of the retrospectives lean heavily upon what could be improved, however, it is more important for the facilitator to focus and celebrate the things that went well.

A good facilitator has the responsibility of reminding the participants that,

  • The idea is to encourage continuous improvement
  • The purpose is not to assign blame to anyone or grudge out personal issues
  • The main purpose is to identify both what to keep doing, where the opportunities for enhancement are, and which of these opportunities will make sense focusing now vs. accepting any future risks for the organization.

7. Make decisions altogether and move on to the next steps


Ensure that the ideas you have discussed throughout the meeting are heavily turned into actionable and implementable steps too. Make sure that discussions are taken seriously after every meeting, this is highly important for the stop and start parts.

After every discussion round, try to agree upon concrete factors or multiple things that can stop or start doing based upon what people have shared, such as their insights. Sometimes, discussions uncover the next step that the whole seems to agree with. You can run a quick Yes/No to get a quick insight and get everyone on board. Discussions can always bring multiple burning issues, which the organization has to prioritize.

For instance, if your team produced multiple great ideas, put them into a multiple-choice poll and allow your team to vote for their preferred one.

8. Encourage shout outs, acknowledge contributions to the project/events

People love when they are recognized, acknowledged, and rewarded – it also feels great to acknowledge others. This is a great way to start off with your retrospective, especially in a remote setting which can inherently feel a little more awkward.

By heavily encouraging and praising everyone, and give shout-outs to people for the time and contributions they have made to the project or the event that is being discussed, it can simply start the meeting on a positive note and get the conversation flowing on a positive note. Moreover, make sure that the participants have the ability to mute or unmute themselves, and encourage them to stay unmuted by constantly asking questions or initiating a two-way conversation, so they can join in naturally, without looking forced.

9. Focus upon positive reinforcement

Retrospective sessions sometimes tend to get a little negative, if they do not start with the right approach. People usually switch onto the criticizing mode and focus more on the things that did not work or made a loss for the company, instead of the things that worked. This can easily leave a bitter taste and create a negative aura in your mouth as you leave the meeting.

That’s why I always weave into our retrospective meetings some activities that reinforce positivity and team cohesion. Retrospectives are a great opportunity to meet and get to know each other better, especially in a remote setting. Make a series of quiz questions about your teammates with some fun facts and get to know your colleagues. Remember, the goal is to set a fun mood for the rest of the meeting.

10. Don’t forget those who cannot be there in person

If your team is distributed around the globe, chances are there will always be people who won’t be able to join right away. Your job is to make sure everyone feels involved, even if they are not there. Rotate the time of the retrospectives, one time for European members, and another time for US members.

 Collect inputs from those who cannot join in person via chats over nTask. Collect their thoughts and ideas and put them forward in the meeting, so they feel acknowledged once they listen to the recording. Always remember to record the meeting and share the recording with everyone on the team.

Final Verdict

Like any other remote meeting, ensure that you have all the right tools to conduct an effective retrospective such as video conferencing tools of Zoom, Teams, Google, Meet, etc. Keep everyone focused and on board with the idea of retrospectives, document the ideas, and further put them into actionable chunks for your organization.

The purpose is to give teams an opportunity to reflect upon their practices and improve accordingly, learn how to work together in the future and more effectively in the future.

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