Host a better retro or team meeting with these tested ideas

We’ve all been there at least once — In a meeting room with your team and colleagues at the end of a massive project reviewing the success (or in some cases, failure) of it. You’re struggling to really gather honest feedback to discuss, iterate, and improve upon for the next project. It’s tough to capture transparency in the workplace, especially in retro meetings, we’ll be the first to admit that. Sometimes retros end up creating more issues than they solve. Never fear! There’s a way to host a successful retro with ease. There’s just a few things you’ll need in your meeting toolbox.

A clear, predetermined agenda + documentation

No one should go into the retro unprepared or in the dark with the topics that will be covered. Putting together even a skeleton agenda will provide clarity and context to what will be discussed at the retro. I’ll include a sample skeleton below as a jumping off point. Providing an agenda beforehand allows all meeting attendees to have a fair stake in the retro, and gives them time to gather thoughts, provide documents, and more.

Example Skeleton Agenda:
  • Logistics
    • Topic:  What project are you discussing
    • Date of Project:  When the project occurred
    • Team:  List everyone in attendance/who participated on the project
  • Introduction
    • Overview:  Give the tl;dr on what this project accomplished
    • Goals:  Review the end goal and associated metrics
    • Roles:  See below section on ‘Designated Roles’
  • Production
    • Showcase:  Show off what was created, built, written, etc.
    • Successes:  Highlight and celebrate what went well!
    • Bugs or Issues:  Things that did not go well, discuss and decide what to improve for the future.
  • Wrap-up
    • Feedback:  See below section on ‘Q&A and Feedback’
    • Next Steps:  What follow-up needs to be done

A place for clear, transparent, and anonymous feedback and questions

This can be the most important part of a retro, but also the hardest part to facilitate successfully. This is where our Question-and-Answer activity truly shines. We use it several times a week in meetings large and mid-size, including our weekly technical and business meetings. It takes very little work to set up and to run. We title ours very simply, “Retro” or “Any questions?”, and run with the feedback that’s submitted.

Tips for running a retro:

  • Decide on anonymous vs. screen names: You can either make the Q&A truly anonymous or allow for responses with screen names. It’s honestly up to your preference, we do ours via screen names and do not look at who responded in reports.
  • Will you moderate?: If you’re running a large meeting and expecting a ton of responses, or if you’re hosting a C-level Q&A and want control over answers, you may choose to turn on moderation, where you can approve or hide all responses before they are shown live.
  • Run the Q&A all session: We turn on our Q&A at the beginning of the meeting, for a few reasons, including minimizing on-the-fly questions during meetings with very full agenda, It’s also helpful so no one forgets to ask a question or give a shout-out, and can submit in the moment and not have to wait to remember until the end.

Don’t forget about remotes!

40% of our company is remote so ensuring remotes feel included is one of our biggest priorities in meeting logistics. We take great care in our audio/visual equipment, meeting invites, and conversations to ensure remotes are as involved as possible even if they are several time zones and thousands of miles away.

A few measures we have in place for our remote team members:

  • The tech:
    • Solid internet, good cameras, even better microphones, and quiet rooms.
    • Seriously, we have microphones in our conference rooms we call the “United Nations microphones”, because they have mute buttons and look very official. But, with that, we’ve invested time and money into having microphones that work. Every time. And it’s much less stressful when you have reliable audio & visual equipment.
  • Having remote advocates
    • In larger meetings, we have someone in-office dialed into the meeting from their laptop complete with headphones to replicate the remote experience. We do this incase there’s any technical difficulties, we can tackle them as soon as possible.
  • Asking remotes their thoughts and for their questions
    • I like to ask remote team members directly if they have questions or thoughts to give them a clear platform to speak in case it’s a chatter-full meeting. This way they don’t have to assume the context in the room if they are unsure when to add their thoughts.

Delegate designated roles

To make a retro meeting, especially in a 5-15+ person meeting, run smoothly, you can assign designated roles to meeting attendees. This will not only organize and streamline the process, it will also democratize it.

Here’s a couple suggested roles, but also think of roles unique to your organization and company:

  • Showrunner: This can be a rotating role, or the functional lead can take this role one. This person owns the flow of the meeting, and ensures everything on the agenda gets discussed.
  • Note-taker: This role takes the notes, easy enough. They’ll be responsible for annotating, documenting, and assigning next steps tasks within the agenda. This is a crucial role for ensuring the success of the retro’s follow-up tasks and documentation for future projects.
  • Remote advocate: I’m mentioning this role again to highlight how helpful this role is when working with dispersed teams and members. Even in 5 person meetings, we have remote advocate, that’s either dialed into the call or keeping an eye on Slack for any sneaky technical issues.
  • Feedback host: Having a rotating feedback facilitator gives energy to the end of the meeting. This role owns running the feedback (Poll Everywhere Q&A or not), walking through questions, and knowing when to wrap up.

Ending with clear next steps

With all good things, retros must also end. After you completed your feedback round, it’s time to determine and finalize next steps. These should be clear action items with assignee(s) and if possible attainable deadlines. The next steps help close out or progress the next future phase of the project’s result. This is also the space to improve processes for the next project. #alwaysbeimproving


With these suggestions and strategies, you’re next retro will run like a well-oiled machine. Which ones are you going to try first? If you’re looking to create a Q&A, head over here to sign up and get started.