How to Run a Retrospective Meeting with Your Remote Team





Future of Work


A retrospective is an integral part of product management. It’s a dedicated timeframe where teams reflect on what has happened and learn how to do better. They are a place to celebrate success and understand failure. Only then can teams work towards continuous improvement.

However, many still do not know how to run a retrospective successfully.

Retrospectives promote knowledge and value sharing while working together towards a common solution. Employees can express concerns freely through a sense of trust and open communication.

They are also a form of risk mitigation. By evaluating tasks on a recurring basis, employees are able to spot issues early on. They can solve them before they become detrimental. At the end of a retrospective, teams are left with a clean slate, ready to take on the next sprint.

Retrospectives speak to the wider advantage of running agile projects that break a large output into smaller tasks. If you’re adopting an Agile project management framework, consider implementing these meetings.

According to PwC, agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects. It is no surprise that agile methodology is used by companies such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble. Agile practices are not only an effective strategy to make sure that a team is effective. They also make sure everyone feels listened to and valued.

If you are looking to foster agile practices in a remote setting, knowing how to run a retrospective is paramount.

How to run a retrospective projects

What is a remote retrospective?

A remote retrospective is a virtual team meeting that occurs at the end of a project or sprint. Team members can think about and discuss how they can improve their future performance and what went wrong. The positives are also included and successful work is celebrated.

Keep in mind that a retrospective differs from a mere review meeting. A review meeting would entail team members presenting their completed work. However, a retrospective has a specific goal: to make sure work is continuously improved by identifying strengths and weaknesses.

A remote retrospective addresses specific questions:

  • Which tasks have carried over?
  • What are the completed tasks in a sprint?
  • Which tasks are no longer necessary?
  • How can we improve the project in the future?
How to run a remote retrospective meeting

How to run a retrospective: Agile methodology in remote settings

A remote retrospective is part of the wider frame of agile methodology in project management. Agile methodology is a way to manage a project by breaking it into smaller tasks and phases - sprints.

A sprint is a timeframe with a clear start and due dates where a team completes a set amount of tasks. You are breaking down large and complex projects into bite-sized pieces to improve productivity.

Remote retrospectives promote continuous improvement as work is regularly evaluated and then enhanced.

Benefits of a remote retrospective

Remote retrospectives are an integral part of ensuring project management is effective and the workflow runs successfully. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of running a remote sprint retrospective.

  • Continuous improvement: By reflecting on what went wrong and what went right, a retrospective fosters continuous improvement throughout a whole project.
  • Team empowerment: Team members have a voice in the retrospective and the ability to change the way they work. This makes a team feel empowered as if they are taking charge together.
  • Increased productivity: The agile methodology increases productivity. A DeltaMatrix study found that agile teams are 25% more productive and 50% faster to market than other teams.
  • Highly documented: Conducting a retrospective remotely facilitates the documentation process, making task management easier afterward. Managers can assign tasks, track progress, and access files without having to rely on meetings or chat messages.
  • Open communication: Speaking freely (albeit politely) is key to team relations. Retrospectives allow team members to evaluate their work and the work of others in a safe and honest space. Many feel more comfortable speaking up in a virtual setting, rather than in person, according to Indeed.
  • Risk mitigation: Retrospectives allow you to fix issues early on in the process, rather than after completing an entire project. By evaluating each sprint, team members can fix the small issues before they become large ones.

5 Steps to Follow Before a Remote Retrospective

If you are wondering how to run a sprint retrospective, make sure to prepare before it even happens. Let’s take a look at the 5 steps to follow before a remote retrospective.

1. Document information

Team members should document all the materials and information throughout their sprint. This is essential in making sure a remote retro runs smoothly. Team members can prepare any questions they might have beforehand. They can also understand beforehand what each team member has been working on.

This will reduce any time-wasting during the meeting. You do not want to spend the meeting discussing completed work. It is not a sprint review where you present your tasks. Rather, you want to evaluate its quality and discuss how to keep improving it.

However, having the right remote work tools is crucial to ensuring this is possible. With Rock, you can document every step taken to complete a sprint, from individual tasks, notes, feedback, and more.

how to run a retrospective with files on rock

2. Set clear agenda with discussion points

Managers should set discussion points in advance. It's important to establish a clear blueprint that you can use to stay on topic during the retrospective. Managers do not need to be too strict to make the retrospective feel too cold and formal.

However, it’s helpful to have these guidelines. If you’re looking for some retrospective template questions, here are some useful ones:

  • Where and when did it go wrong in this sprint?
  • What went better than expected in this sprint?
  • What do you expect and from whom?
  • What helps you be successful as a team?
  • What did you learn during this sprint?
  • What was your biggest challenge?
  • What problems came up most often?
  • Would we have benefited from a different approach?
  • What should we do differently next time?
  • How can we improve this entire process?
  • What don’t we want to change?
  • What are we still unsure about?

You can also check our meeting agenda examples to further structure your meetings and make sure they are productive and relevant.

How to run a retrospective: main questions

3. Share remote retro notes at least 48 hours before

Whoever is organizing the remote retrospective should share any important information at least 48 hours prior. This includes the decided-upon discussion points and any other necessary materials. This reduces time wasting and allows team members to clarify any questions before coming into the retrospective.

Managers can easily send these through Rock. They can also send a quick Loom where they explain all the discussion points and answer any questions. By leveraging asynchronous work through tasks, notes and files, teams can get a lot of the work done in advance.

This way the retrospective meeting can focus on the most important points.

4. Be mindful of invitees

Do not invite people to the remote retrospective that do not need to be there. Be mindful of everyone’s time. If someone only worked on a small task in a sprint, chances are they do not need to be there.A retrospective can also get messy if there are too many people involved.

While cross functional collaboration is valuable, a certain department might not need to be present. In fact, you want to foster a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking out. A smaller team might not feel safe doing so in the presence of “outsiders”.

5. Introduce fun retrospective ideas for remote teams

Running a remote retrospective might sound challenging, but you can be creative and make it a unique experience. There are plenty of creative virtual retrospective ideas to use. A fun one could be having interesting virtual backgrounds. Set a theme beforehand, maybe it's your team's favorite movie or favorite color.

While sticking to the agenda is important, think about some check-in questions for meetings or quick icebreakers.

For example, ask your team members to go around the room and say one thing they would bring to a deserted island. Fun retrospectives will keep your team members engaged. We also recommend running virtual retro ideas by your team members and giving them a chance to get creative.

5 Steps to Follow During a Remote Retrospective

To make sure your sprint retrospective runs as planned, here are 5 steps to follow during a remote retrospective.

1. Designate a leader

Everyone should have their voice valued in a retrospective and a chance to express their concerns. A designated leader makes sure everyone gets the chance to speak, nurturing a fair environment.

The leader does not need to be a manager. Switching up the leader after every sprint is a great way of making sure every team member feels valued.

2. Nurture creativity

A remote retrospective is not too heavy or formal. While structure is important, fostering a creative environment is equally necessary. Every team member needs to feel like they can express a diversity of opinions and feedback.

Only then will they produce innovative outputs going forward.Being open to creativity will boost your team’s engagement, making them feel more connected to other employees and the company.

According to a Gallup report, companies with a highly engaged workforce have 21% higher profitability and 17% higher productivity.

3. Stay on topic

While creative strategies have their place in a retrospective, staying on topic is important. This is not the time for informal conversations about the weather. You can set time aside for these.

The leader is key here. They must guide the discussion within the designated guidelines and every main point addressed.

Whenever the conversation is going too off-topic, they should bring the team back to the discussion points at hand. However, without the prior preparation of a clear agenda, this will be hard to do.

4. Recognition matters

A retrospective is not just about righting wrongs. Managers should ensure they recognize their employees and make them feel valued. A study found that 37% of employees feel most encouraged by personal recognition.

Show your appreciation for what went right during the sprint and recognize those individuals publicly. By highlighting what did go right, improvement becomes continuous and natural. You will also be paving the way for better performance and driving team members to become more productive.

5. How to run a retrospective: Set next steps

A successful retrospective entails setting up actionable next steps. Ideas are great, but how will you implement them?

Too often, those leading retrospectives forget to actually set a framework to execute new ideas.  Make sure to figure out how tasks will progress to put these ideas into practice. Who will take on what tasks and in what timeframe?

The next steps should also be realistic so as to not overwhelm your whole team. Again, this is where everyone’s input should be equally respected.

5 Actions to Take After a Remote Retrospective

Now that you know how to run a retrospective, what comes next? A remote retrospective is important in itself. However, the actions that come after are perhaps even more impactful.

Here are 5 actions to take after a remote retrospective.

1. Set tasks & deadlines with online retrospective tools

During the retrospective, you will loosely discuss your next steps or whether you are starting a new project. After the meeting, it’s time to get these down on “paper” and set those deadlines. Make sure these are reasonable and respect the decisions discussed in the retrospective.

Aligned with agile methodology, set up another sprint where your team will work to complete a set of smaller tasks. Rock simplifies such task management. You can update the task board with new tasks, choose your time frames, and assign various assignees.

You can then view your tasks in a calendar, list, board, or compact view for better organization.

2. Gather feedback

A post-meeting feedback survey is a great way to measure your retrospective’s success.

As a leader, you won’t always know what was on your team members’ minds. Through an anonymous survey, they can be as honest as possible without the fear of judgment.

You can also have 1-1 meetings with each of your team members if you want more extensive feedback. For many, this is a safer environment that makes employees more comfortable communicating honestly.Whatever tool you decide to use to gather feedback, make sure to act upon it.

If there were issues expressed, brainstorm how you can improve your next retrospective. A retrospective does not just lead to the improvement of projects, but also of your management skills.

3. Share retrospective materials

The recording of the retrospective should be easily accessible for those who want to refer back to it. It could very well be that team members forget all the previously discussed details. This way, everything is right where you need it.

With Rock, you can share a video attachment in the notes feature with a list of the next steps to take. The comment section allows employees to ask any questions about the attachment or even provide more feedback.

Having such organized documentation will make the sprint workflow run smoother. It could also be beneficial for the next retrospective to look back at the progress made.

how to run a retrospective share materials

4. Follow up with the team

Agile methodology is all about continuous progress and improvement. After a retrospective, you’re not done and dusted. It’s necessary that managers follow up with their team so that they can continue to produce high-quality work.

A remote team meeting could be a way to follow up. However, if you see that an individual has a more complicated task, a 1-1 is always a good idea.According to Forbes, one-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools that managers can use.

When conducted properly, a 1-1 is a valuable way to build trust and make an employee feel supported.

how to run a retrospective follow up with team members

5. Highlight new goals and metrics

This point is different from just setting deadlines and tasks, that’s more of an project management task.

Highlighting newly established goals is what will drive productivity within your team and motivate them to reach such objectives.

What metrics are you trying to reach? Perhaps you came to the conclusion that you must reevaluate some of your previous goals. Maybe you planned to have 5 websites developed, but only finished 3.

Make the necessary adaptations to goals so that you can more realistically evaluate them in the next retrospective.  

How to run a remote retrospective: common mistakes to avoid

Remote retrospectives can easily go wrong. Not because they are remote, but because they often involve various stakeholders with different outlooks. Without the right structure, a retrospective won't achieve its objectives.

Here are common mistakes to avoid in a remote retro:

  • Lack of prior preparation: Without prior preparation, your retrospective will likely be a mess. To prevent any disorganization, prepare a guideline with discussion questions beforehand
  • Going off-topic: Sticking to an agenda is key. Without a set goal and blueprint for the discussion, it won’t be a real retrospective. Instead, team members will go off-topic and not be able to foster improvement. This meeting is not the time for an informal conversation about your team’s personal life.
  • No clear actions set after meeting: Even if your team members were able to evaluate their work successfully, don't neglect the actionable steps that follow. To ensure continuous improvement, make sure that clear actions are set and tasks are assigned.
  • Too many voices: A common mistake is inviting too many people to the retrospective. Too many opinions can lead the meeting to focus on unnecessary factors. It can also be detrimental to open communication within a team as some might feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions. Make sure to invite those that need to be there only and that every voice has equal opportunity.

How to run remote retrospectives with Rock

Agile practices are all about breaking daunting and complex tasks into manageable ones. It requires organized task management where everything is documented and available for team members to review. Rock is an online retrospective tool that provides an all-in-one messaging with tasks, notes, files and so much more.

Rock is so effective that it avoids teams having to plan a retrospective altogether at times. Let’s be honest. Too many of us spend an absurd amount of time in unproductive meetings, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Stay mindful of the relevance of scheduling a retrospective. Meeting every day might be less productive compared to a retrospective every 2 weeks or once a month.

How to run a retrospective with Rock

Rock makes it so that not only the retrospective runs smoothly, but also the aftermath that follows. Employees can easily implement the goals defined in the retrospective with quick access to all the necessary materials:

  • Meetings: Jump on a Zoom or Google Meet call for your retrospective.
  • Tasks: Manage tasks, assign them to employees, and even start a new sprint. Managers can add labels and filters to these including their urgency.
  • Notes: Attach a video of the retrospective and upload it with notes so it is easily accessible to all. Team members can also comment on any feedback and additional questions with notes or files. You can also send out a video loom where you present the discussion guidelines prior to the retrospective.
  • Files: Connect cloud storage providers to your space and attach cloud files from Google Drive, Dropbox, Onedrive and more to your tasks and notes.

A retrospective with Rock is also a lot less time-consuming. Rock brings together different ways to communicate such messages, tasks, files and notes into one place. Tightly connected, you can add files to notes or mention tasks in messages.

All in all, the key to conducting a successful remote retrospective is having access to the right online retrospective tools.

As an all-in-one alternative, Rock provides full-fledged project management functionality in one place. Features allow both employees, managers and external stakeholders to prepare, conduct, and participate in retrospectives in an intuitive manner.

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