Nurturing team well-being through meaningful team retrospectives

a team gathered together to use tech to have a helpful team retrospective

In an ever-evolving business landscape where global growth prospects remain gloomy,1 companies need to focus on retaining top talent. A good way to do this is to create a supportive work environment that fosters a sense of connection. A team retrospective is effective for managing stress and uncertainty and is a powerful tool for boosting team spirit.

At F4S we believe in investing in people. Though traditional retrospectives focus on commercial goals, we feel they should also assess employee well-being. We can show you how a thoughtful team retrospective improves employee well-being, cultivating happy, resilient teams and driving collaborative performance.

Table of contents
What is a team retrospective?
Getting the most out of your team during a retrospective
How to run a meaningful team retrospective
Want to hold an effective team retrospective?
Frequently asked questions‍

What is a team retrospective?

A team retrospective is a structured meeting where a group of individuals collectively reflect on collaborative work. The resulting examination of successes, challenges, and potential improvements, fosters an environment of open communication, continuous self-improvement, and enhanced teamwork.

Why hold a team retrospective?

Teams thrive when you invest in the people that shape them. A team retrospective is a chance to reflect on past performances to see positive change in the future.

“A great process isn’t designed; it is evolved. So, the important thing isn’t your process; the important thing is your process for improving your process,” said Henrik Kniberg in his book Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban.

A successful retrospective is as much about the health of the humans in your team as it is about business goals. The benefits of a successful retrospective are growth, improved communication and collaboration, boosted well-being, and an increased morale.

F4S can guide you through effective team retrospectives.

How often should you perform a retrospective?

The frequency of retrospective meetings should vary based on needs and project cycles. Conducting meetings at regular intervals, or project milestones, is a good starting point.

To ensure continuous improvement and adaptability, retrospectives can happen fortnightly, monthly, or every quarter, dependent on team needs. Timings can be adjusted to ensure the process remains valuable and relevant.

Who joins a team retrospective?

It's essential to have the right people present at any team retrospective. The process should be guided by a facilitator or team manager. All team members involved in a project should take part. Product owners and relevant stakeholders may also join to provide insight and to understand team progress.

What are the benefits of team retrospectives?

The goal of a successful retrospective is to create an environment for constructive team building, and to maintain a healthy and positive workplace.

A team retrospective also allows team members to reflect on past performance to identify strengths and weaknesses. This can improve team dynamics, processes, and productivity, to facilitate conversations on action items moving forward. This is supported by a report in the Spring 2018 issue of SHRM’s People and Strategy2 which suggested that, on average, teams that conduct retrospectives outperform those that don’t by more than 20 percent.

It also provides an opportunity to evaluate elements crucial for success. These elements include self-esteem, stress factors, team dynamics, and whether teams feel supported. This is especially important in the current business landscape where employees are less likely to put up with an unsupportive workplace. In fact, a 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Culture Survey3 showed that 65 percent of respondents would choose lower pay over a negative work environment.

Why is it important?

Team retrospectives are a proactive approach to building a positive and healthy work environment. They provide valuable insights to management and human resources, allowing them to identify areas of improvement. Businesses can then develop strategies and team processes to enhance employee satisfaction and support vital well-being. This leads to continuous team improvement and higher retention of talent.4

What's the difference between a team retrospective and a health check?

Team retrospectives and health checks both assess and improve team performance. But each serves a different purpose, focusing on different aspects of the team dynamic.

  • A retrospective is a meeting held at the end of a project to reflect on a specific performance. The goal is to identify and enhance the performance and processes of future projects.
  • A staff health check is a broader assessment of employee well-being. It considers work-life balance, stress level, job satisfaction, team spirit and professional development.

Staff health checks are less frequent in business but are no less important. Heavier workloads, longer hours, and economic uncertainties are our current reality. The result is increased burnout, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression in the workplace.This was shown in Gallup's Global 2023 Workplace Report, which reported that worker stress remains at an all-time high, with 44 percent of people surveyed across the world experiencing significant workplace stress daily.5

Spotify introduced a health check model6 for their employees back in 2014. Their model fits well in retrospectives and has played a major role in creating a high-trust environment for the company’s employees.

F4S suggests conducting regular team health checks in your retro format as a fundamental business practice. This allows you to:

  • Foster collaboration and synergy among team members
  • Tackle challenges and solve problems as they arise
  • Address obstacles and nurture collaboration
  • Adapt and expand your knowledge base through continuous learning and improvement
  • Create employee confidence and security
  • Maintain a healthy and positive workspace

Incorporating these health checks into regular team retrospectives will build a stronger workforce.

Getting the most out of your team during a retrospective

F4S is a cutting-edge performance and collaboration platform that empowers teams to reach their full potential. Regular team health checks foster a positive work environment. F4S provides teams with powerful tools and insights to gauge your team's well-being.

The F4S workplace motivations assessment gauges 48 work motivations with up to 98% reliability. This empowers you with precise insights to unleash the full potential of your team.

The F4S work style assessment invites each team member to answer a series of questions. It measures the work traits that impact employees' communication and information processing. This allows for better communication with staff, and happier, more productive teams.

Through in-depth analysis, it uncovers the strengths and blind spots of each participant. It then compares their work motivations to those of industry-leading performers.

f4s team dashboard shows team members ranking of 48 workplace motivations
F4S team dashboard

Using innovative AI-powered technology, the F4S assessment revolutionizes team optimization. Team leaders should complete the assessment process to experience its benefits firsthand. After completing it, they should encourage and guide their team to do the same. This proactive approach ensures team-wide benefits from the assessment's insights and growth opportunities.

Canva, KPMG, Atlassian, and Verizon are just a few of the companies using work motivation reporting to gain a better understanding of each team member’s affinities, culture, strengths, and differences. Through measuring these motivational insights companies can harness their team's unique qualities for optimal dynamics.

Accelerate understanding between teams

Breadth

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Motivated by macro big picture thinking, these teammates value moving quickly to connect dots between abstract ideas to 'get the gist' of things.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

vs

Depth

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These teammates value being concrete and specific, getting into details to understand the steps or tasks required.

Chart showing rage from Average, High and Ver High.

See the different work styles in your team

Take the free assessment & set up your team

Managers can leverage F4S's data-driven insights to inform team retrospectives. This empowers your team to reach their full potential with evidence-based support.

How to run a meaningful team retrospective

Continuous improvement and communication foster a healthy and productive team environment. Running a meaningful team retrospective is essential to this. Here are some simple steps to create an effective retrospective ritual that balances well-being and productivity.

Planning your team retrospective

Time – Timing is everything. Schedule the team retrospective at a time when all members, including remote teams, can attend. Ensure there are no distractions.

Place – Find a comfortable, private space to conduct the meeting. This will also be dependent on whether your team is remote or office based. Either way, the team should feel relaxed.

During your team retrospective

Breaking the ice – It’s important to create a psychologically safe environment for your team meetings. Always start with a fun icebreaker to energize the team and create a positive atmosphere.

The right format – There are various retro formats you can use for your ritual. The ‘Start, Stop, Continue’ format gathers feedback on a process, project, or situation. Guided by the meeting facilitator, participants decide what to start, stop, and continue. It fosters open discussions for improvement and collaboration.

The ‘Sad, Mad, Glad’ meeting format encourages participants to express their emotions. It fosters empathy, understanding, and better communication within the group. It is commonly used in team health checks and team-building sessions.

The ‘4Ls’ format provides a more structured approach. It can be useful for project retrospective meetings. In this format, participants share their thoughts on four key aspects – what they liked, learned, lacked, and longed for. This provides valuable feedback to understand participants' perspectives.

Whichever format you choose, consider what will best suit your team's needs and personalities.

For optimal success, it is a good idea to mix up formats. It's also vital to rotate your team facilitator often. Different leadership styles can deliver different retrospective results and keep things fresh and fair.

Breakout sessions – Divide the team into smaller groups for breakout sessions. More intimate sessions enhance participation and encourage active participation from everyone, including quieter team members. This also allows many discussions to happen at once, ensuring coverage of all current issues within the allocated time frame.

Smaller groups provide an opportunity for all members to provide input and offer more psychological safety for individuals to express their thoughts. These sessions also offer confidentiality and security for discussing sensitive topics and problematic issues.

By splitting into subgroups, discussions can be more focused on specific topics. This allows for deeper exploration and analysis of issues and potential solutions. Renowned business consultant and motivational speaker, Brian Tracey7 suggests smaller brainstorming groups also encourage more big-picture and out-of-the-box thinking.

Drive interactivity and engagement The success of a retrospective depends on the team's commitment to the process. It is also reliant on their willingness to embrace change and improvement. A round-robin format led by the meeting facilitator offers all members an equal opportunity to share thoughts and ideas. Encouraging open communication and a blame-free culture creates a safe environment. The retrospective facilitator should reassure teams that the goal is improvement, not blame-finding. Team members should feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.8

Allow for anonymous feedback – An anonymous feedback option allows staff to have their say free of fear or judgment. This not only leads to more open and candid discussions but increased participation. Allowing anonymous feedback demonstrates that you value the input of all team members. It can lead to constructive and specific feedback without fear of backlash. This enables the identification of critical issues or problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Take a team vote – Allow team members to be a part of the decision-making process through polling. Gather data and insights through feedback, metrics, and incident reports. Create a list of the most significant insights or issues, positive and negative, to emerge. This allows the team to work out what to maintain, as well as areas for improvement. Focus on the most important issues then clarify criteria for voting. Online tools are available for polling and allow an anonymous approach.

Decide on action items – Once you have determined the team’s core issues, focus on those that will have the most significant impact. Both team productivity and happiness should be addressed with equal measure. Once issues and ideas are identified, start a discussion on potential solutions or corrective actions for each. Ensure that action items are SMART –specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Use tools – Trello and Miro offer health check templates to assist with team retrospectives. These can help in organizing team insights, actions, and progress. Ready-made health check templates provide a structured framework for organizing retrospective discussions. They allow teams to rank insights, actions, and progress, for more productive meetings. These templates help remote team collaboration, enabling dispersed teams to participate in retrospectives.

Teams with members who have taken the F4S work style assessment can use the F4S 'Me Over Time' tool to track changes. This powerful tool helps management understand where team members have developed over time.

Share team gratitudes – Sharing gratitudes is a valuable exercise. It encourages team members to express their appreciation for one another. It also acknowledges that collective efforts contribute to a team's success. To set the tone, you could begin by sharing your gratitudes. This demonstrates how the activity works and encourages others to take part. Go around the room (or virtual call) and ask each team member to share their gratitudes. Keep things focused on team-related aspects and ask team members for examples. This could be someone's support on a project or a positive team dynamic. Encourage sharing but don't force anyone if they feel uncomfortable. The goal is to foster a positive atmosphere, not create pressure.

Shoutouts and achievements - Celebrate successes to reinforce the value of individual and collective efforts. This builds a supportive and motivated team that is more likely to continue performing at its best. Share specific examples of colleagues who have gone above and beyond. This might be anything from achieving significant milestones to demonstrating exceptional teamwork. Remember, it is as important to celebrate small wins as major achievements. Acknowledging the small stuff can boost morale and motivation.

Create a team retrospective artifact – A team retrospective artifact is a visual representation of meeting outcomes. This is especially helpful for team members who respond well to visual stimuli. It provides a record of team discussions, key retrospective points and visualizations. It also enables you to track action items. Creating and sharing a well-structured retrospective artifact helps a team stay accountable. It also enables growth tracking and provides a reference for future rituals. You can create the retrospective artifact in various formats, depending on the tools available. Potential tools include Miro, MURAL, or Trello, or a Google Doc or slide deck.

Celebrate success - Celebrating achievements is essential for boosting morale, strengthening team cohesion, and encouraging continued success. Recognition builds a positive work culture and supports talent retention. In fact, a study by Achievers9 showed that rewards and recognition can encourage 69% of employees to stay at their company.

Want to hold an effective team retrospective?

Empower effective employee team retrospectives by helping your team uncover their preferred styles of thinking, communicating, learning, and collaborating.

With the free F4S assessment, managers gain immediate access to key team motivators. This comprehensive report details the 48 distinct motivational traits of each team member. Managers can use the unique preferences and strengths of employees to tailor retrospectives and create a culture of continuous learning.

The F4S assessment revolutionizes how we conduct retrospectives. It ensures that we hear and value each team member's voice. From this, managers can harness individual strengths to optimize team performance.

Frequently asked questions

How long should a team retrospective session last?

The duration of a session depends on team size and the complexity of a project. One to two hours is generally enough time for meaningful discussions and outcomes.

How can a team prepare for a retrospective or health check?

Inform teams in advance and encourage them to reflect on recent events before the meeting. Then gather data or metrics related to the team's performance. This ensures that the retrospective session is well-organized and focused.

How can a team foster a culture of open and honest communication during these sessions?

Use facilitators to guide discussions. Cultivate a blame-free environment and respect everyone's opinions and contributions.

What are the challenges of retrospectives, and how can they be overcome?

Common challenges include time constraints, lack of participation, and addressing sensitive issues. Set aside a regular time and create a safe environment and engage team members without force.

Are there any best practices or tips for making team retrospectives effective?

Focus your retrospective format on specific goals. Encourage equal participation and a positive atmosphere. Ensure resulting team goals are actionable and measurable.

Empower your team's success

Take the assessment and invite your team to complete it as well. Uncover and harness your team's unique qualities for optimal dynamics. Then start Improving your team's communication and productivity.

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  1. 2023 World Economic Forum Chief Economists Outlook. Available at https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Chief_Economists_Outlook_2023.pdf
  2. 2018 SHRM People & Strategy Journal Team Development: The Power of Debriefing. Available at https://www.shrm.org/executive/resources/people-strategy-journal/Spring2018/Pages/debriefing.aspx
  3. 2018 LinkedIn Workplace Culture Trends Report. Available at https://blog.linkedin.com/2018/june/26/workplace-culture-trends-the-key-to-hiring-and-keeping-top-talent
  4. 2021 Paychex Meeting Employee Well-being Expectations. Available at https://www.paychex.com/articles/human-resources/employee-wellbeing-great-resignation
  5. 2023 Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report. Available at https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx
  6. Spotify Squad Health Check – visualizing what to improve. Available at https://engineering.atspotify.com/2014/09/squad-health-check-model/
  7. How To Run Effective Brainstorming Sessions. Available at https://briantracy.com/blog/business-success/how-to-run-an-effective-brainstorming-session-creative-thinking-for-business-success
  8. 2023 Harvard Business Review. What is Psychological Safety? Available at https://hbr.org/2023/02/what-is-psychological-safety
  9. 2018 Recognition and Rewards Resonate as Key to Employee Retention. Available at https://www.achievers.com/press/achievers-survey-finds-without-recognition-expect-employee-attrition-2018
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