There are always at least some meetings in the team’s life. Daily, planning, sprint/work review, or simply one of the many group work sessions. If I’d have to choose one as the most important, that would be the retrospective. Why?

What Is Retrospective?

In case you’re not sure what retrospective is, I love the definition of ProductPlan:

A retrospective is a meeting held after a product ships to discuss what happened during the product development and release process, with the goal of improving things in the future based on those learnings and conversations.

Substitute “after a product ships” to any cadence that is reasonable to your team, as long as it is repeatedly happening (and frequently enough), and you’ll get the team’s main superpower in check: continuous improvement. Whatever obstacles the team was facing, it will be brought up, discussed, and experimented on fixing it in the most suitable way possible. Even if it is just a teeny tiny “way of working” improvement, those accumulate over the years and make a remarkable impact on teamwork and efficiency.

My Team is Doing Good Already

I’ve heard this statement way too many times. If your team is doing a good job, it does not mean there are no things to improve further, transitioning from good to great. But more often, such a mindset is responsible for the “resting on your laurels” effect. Situation and context always change, and if the team stops following and learning from it, they slowly but surely start heading to some unpleasant… adjustment.

So maintaining the team’s muscle to spot improvements, openly discuss problems, and swiftly adapt is a must for any long-running team.

Retrospectives Are Hard

Of course, getting retrospectives going the right way is not an easy feat. Many articles and even books have been written on this topic, so I’ll not dive into too many “how to do it” details here. Feel free to read up on one of the resources of your choice.

Manager’s View

Retrospective meetings are an absolute goldmine for managers. It gives so much insight and data points about the team and individuals it’s even difficult to decide where to start.

First, it’s a fantastic thermometer what’s the team’s overall morale and engagement level. The facilitator is doing their best to get anything out, but everybody is silent about problems visible with a naked eye? Are some factions fighting with each other on any topic? You know that privately engineers complain about some aspect of teamwork, but there are only crickets on the retro? It’s a big red flag it’s about time to roll up your sleeves and jump in.

Second, retro shows so much about individuals. Remember, since it’s a meeting, people who are more on the extrovert side have an advantage. But that’s exactly why strong facilitation is needed too - to ensure everyone is involved in their own preferred and safe way. At the end of the day, it is like a lighthouse showing if they care about the teamwork. What are the topics they get frustrated about? Are they willing (and can) to dig deep enough to get to the root of the problem? Is there any conflict with another person on the team? Is there enough goodwill to make some settlements to agree on action items? Are they able and willing to participate in a blameless discussion? Who are informal leaders in the team, and what influence do they exert on others?

Then, discovered problems and action items set works as a fantastic alignment checkpoint. Does the team have enough visibility into their own impediments? Does organization see and actively search for solutions to issues poising teams out of their control? The organization tries to move in one direction, but the team decides to move to the opposite? These are just a few examples of how retrospective results can reveal alignment or the lack thereof.

The Danger of “Too Fast, Too Soon”

Wow, this is so revealing! After the next retro, one could exclaim and jump to proactively fixing anything you’ve seen “not right.” This is very dangerous. The only class of problems you should not waste time on before interfering is open conflicts, harassment, disrespectful behavior.

For everything else, one retrospective as a data point is just too weak and needs to be supplemented by more retrospectives, private discussions, insights from other sources. The delta is often speaking more than just plain fact. Having a better track record of the team’s behavior through time helps to understand any potential issue in much better depth. Remember, the team is a complex structure and should be treated with thoughtfulness and care.

Going Deeper

For some reason, one aspect of retrospectives is quite often missed - during them, you can also talk about retrospectives. Do you feel they are helpful? Are you happy with the changes they’re bringing? Do you feel comfortable talking about the team’s problems there? However, not everything is retro material and needs to be cross-checked during regular 1:1s.


I do believe effective retrospectives can be a superpower for any team. A way to stay humble and continuously search for improvements, even if everything seems just fine. What could be more powerful?

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