How to run an inclusive retrospective meeting

RETRO-QA-BANNER

Poll Everywhere is a retrospective-driven company.

That company prides itself on a flat, data-driven team structure. We rarely operate on top-down decision making. Because of this, it’s vital that we run well-oiled retros that expose small issues before they mutate into large ones.

That means making everyone feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly in front of their peers – including the company’s co-founders. I spoke with some of our seasoned meeting facilitators to learn how they run a retrospective meeting.


Retrospectives at Poll Everywhere come in two styles.

The first is a mainstay for any company practicing agile development: a sprint retrospective meeting. The goal here is to surface any issues in workflow or process that managers aren’t already aware of, and to decide on action items for resolving those issues.

The second is slightly less common: retrospectives at company-wide meetings. This retro happens at the end of the meeting. It’s a quick and easy way to surface issues impacting the entire company, make announcements, or celebrate personal accomplishments.

Both styles have gone through several iterations at Poll Everywhere over the years. But while the method, timing, or duration of a retrospective meeting may change, one constant remains: using our product to run a question and answer session.

 

RETRO-QA

 

Poll Everywhere retrospectives, especially the larger ones, are structured around an inclusive Q&A.

These retrospectives only work is if everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard. That means no cold calling or glossing over folks who don’t speak up. Instead, we ask everyone to contribute through a Poll Everywhere Q&A activity.

Here’s how it works: A Poll Everywhere Q&A lets everyone submit feedback from the privacy of their phones or other devices. Those responses appear in real time on the presentation screen for everyone to see. Each person also sees a list of the other response and can vote for items they see as most pressing. Responses with more votes rise to the top of the list, while those with less sink to the bottom.

Q&A gives the facilitator a curated list of the group’s top talking points. The entire process is completely transparent since each response is visible to everyone. And the facilitator can control whether or not to attach names to submissions.

 

 

For a full-blown sprint retrospective meeting, the facilitator sandwiches their Poll Everywhere Q&A between what’s urgent and what’s important.

Urgent items are things the team has agreed to watch out for during future sprints. Is someone coordinating with the design team? Is someone responsible for collecting user feedback? These items are essentially boxes to check and require little group discussion.

After urgent items comes the Poll Everywhere Q&A, followed by important items. In the past, facilitators have tried switching these two activities. However, they found that starting a group discussion on the predetermined important items heavily biased the following Q&A. This is antithetical to the meeting’s goal of surfacing issues that managers aren’t aware of.

 

presenter_back

 

For retrospectives at company-wide meetings, the Q&A runs throughout the meeting.

Instead of pausing the meeting every time someone has a question or comment, this feedback instead goes to the Q&A. A few minutes are left at the end to collect any final submissions from the group. Then the results are displayed for everyone to see. The facilitator runs through the top-voted items, questions are answered, comments are heard, and the meeting ends on time.


An interactive Q&A is just one of several ways Poll Everywhere shakes up an established meeting. Every so often a facilitator will whip up a staff meeting quiz to reinforce what presented. The results are shared at the start of the next meeting, which is another opportunity to help attendees internalize the information presented.