About this podcast episode

Paulo Caroli, an author, speaker, and advisor at Thoughtworks, shares the transformative power of retrospectives in fostering continuous improvement within agile teams.

Learn how retrospectives are the cornerstone for continuous improvement, enabling teams to reflect, learn, and grow. 🌱

In this podcast, you will learn:

✅ The role of retrospectives in identifying and addressing team issues

✅ How to design and structure great retrospectives

🚀 Practical strategies for improving team morale and collaboration through retrospectives


(transcripts are auto-generated, so please excuse the brevity)

[00:00:00] Introduction: Agile in Action with Paulo Caroli

Bill Raymond: Hi and welcome to the Agile in Action podcast with Bill Raymond, where I’m joined by Paulo Caroli, hi Paulo. How are you today?

Paulo Caroli: Hey, Bill. Fantastic. Really nice to be here.

Bill Raymond: I’m looking forward to our conversation. We’re going to talk about why retrospectives are the most important elements for teams. Paulo Caroli, you are an advisor at ThoughtWorks. You are the author of a few books, including FunRetrospectives, and we’re going to talk about that today.

Bill Raymond: But before we get started, could you share a little bit more about yourself?

Paulo Caroli: When I think about myself, I consider me as a early adopter of agile methodologies. Back in the days, I was a developer and I was one of those developers that felt like, hey, I can do a better job. I should facilitate this retrospective or facilitate that inception.

Paulo Caroli: And that’s where my experience and in fact, my whole career came about. And the books, including FunRetrospectives that we’re going to talk about and my other book, Lean Inception, which has to do with inceptions.

Bill Raymond: You were nice enough to let me get a copy of your book so I can read it. The book is great. It is so fun to read and it’s really clear and concise how you can really run a retrospective and make it fun at the same time. So I appreciate that.

Paulo Caroli: Thank you.

Bill Raymond: Now, before we get into it, we’ve talked about frameworks, including Scrum, which you kind of base retrospectives off in your book.

[00:01:21] The Importance of Retrospectives in Agile Teams

Bill Raymond: But one of the things that we want to do today is drill down into this retrospective concept.

[00:01:27] Understanding the Scrum Framework

Bill Raymond: I think it would probably be good to ground ourselves in what the Scrum framework is, so let’s go ahead and ground ourselves in those events, artifacts, and roles that the Scrum framework prescribes so that we can then talk about retrospectives.

Paulo Caroli: Sure. I’m very thankful for Scrum because they made Retrospectives very famous, right? They exist before Scrum, but Scrum definitely put those in everybody’s agenda. So whenever I think about Scrum, I always remind myself the three, five, three three roles.

Paulo Caroli: Product owner, the person responsible for giving the direction, the strategic direction for the product. Scrum master, the person that has experienced with Scrum in fact, kind of the facilitator, several times the Scrum master would be the retrospective facilitator. And developer, a member of the development team that will make the product, the service happen.

Paulo Caroli: Those are the three rows. You have the five events. Thank you for this Scrum. So first off, first one of them is they call the event, but it is the sprint, the cadency that we’re going to follow weekly or biweekly.

Paulo Caroli: And then at the beginning of, your sprint, you have the sprint planning meeting where we decide what is the goal for the sprint and the backlog of work. At the end of the sprint, you have the sprint review meeting where we review how did you go about our goal, our sprint goal and the items that we said we would accomplish.

Paulo Caroli: Once, per sprint, you should do a retrospective, which is the Kaizen moment, is the moment to stop and look for improvement. What should we improve? Because we’re going to work sprint by sprint, so we better be continuously improving ourselves. That’s a retrospective.

Paulo Caroli: And the last event, the daily Scrum. A quick meeting usually was standing up when we were presential. We’d quickly talk about What we did yesterday, what you’re doing today, and do you have any blockers?

Paulo Caroli: And Scrum also have the three artifacts. The first one being the product backlog, the high level backlog of work, the roadmap that we’re going to do for the product. You have the increment. What is the next increment for this product?

Paulo Caroli: Many people work with MVP, for example, or a small increment or a hypothetical thing that you’re going to validate. That’s the increment. And the third one being the sprint backlog. What is the backlog of work for that next sprint we’re going to work on. Many times the sprint backlog. It’s more detailed. The product backlog is like a road map in higher level of information.

Bill Raymond: Great. Thank you very much for that.

[00:03:47] The Role of Retrospectives in Continuous Improvement

Bill Raymond: So now let’s drill into what that retrospective is meant to accomplish.

Paulo Caroli: Yes, so retrospective. First, that term existed before Scrum. It was very common that at the end of a project we would do a retrospective about the project. Sometimes we’d call it the postmortem. From Lean as well, we call it Kaizen. And retrospective was the Kaizen moment, a moment to look for continuous improvement, because we must be continuously improving how we work.

Paulo Caroli: And Scrum made it famous because when they said, there’s five events, they’re super important, I really like that they said, retrospective is one of them. So once per sprint, we should stop and look for improvement. So retrospective is a moment where the team stops and talk about improvement, especially because the team’s working continuously week after week.

Paulo Caroli: So we gotta be improving. That’s what we do as human beings, especially teams, group of people working together. We gotta be improving week by week.

Bill Raymond: What you’re saying is basically it’s however, whatever your cadence is for your sprints. So if you’re. Doing a release for your product every week, then you do a retrospective every week. If it’s every two weeks, you do one every two weeks. Is that accurate?

Paulo Caroli: Looking from the Scrum point of view, yes. But as a matter of fact, I don’t care if you’re using Scrum, Kanban none of the above.

[00:05:07] The Importance of Regular Improvement Checks

Paulo Caroli: You should always be looking for improvement. So that’s why many times I say week by week because every week, we should be looking for improvements. Maybe that’s too much of a cadence for your team, do it every other week.

Paulo Caroli: I wouldn’t advocate for doing, oh, do it only at the end of the project. That’s a postmortem, like the name saying, it’s dead, it’s over. So you’re not improving, you’re just talking about what happened in the past. When you do it continuously, week by week, You’re seriously looking for improvement because you might be looking back and also looking ahead.

Paulo Caroli: That’s how I like to look for the retrosprectives. Not only in the perspective of being a Scrum meeting, but it’s a moment to look for improvements. And we should have those moments quite often.

Bill Raymond: But there’s also a little bit more than just improvements, aren’t there? It’s is there some element of looking back at what was accomplished as well?

Paulo Caroli: Yes, that’s the most common style where we stop and look back. It’s let’s look back in these two weeks that we worked together towards this goal and talk about, hey, what went well, what did not go so well, and if have any new ideas for the next period. I think that’s the most most common format of retrospectives.

Paulo Caroli: And when you say the word retrospective, I think that’s what comes to everybody’s mind. What went well, not so well, and if there is any new idea for moving forward.

Bill Raymond: When we’re looking at what we can change, like how big are these things? Are we looking at the big things that we need to tackle? Like for example we need to change an entire infrastructure in order to enable all these new customers coming on board, or is it smaller things that you can accomplish in the next few weeks?

Paulo Caroli: That’s a good question. In fact, thank you for asking this because when you got to think about something big, so there’s a new platform, big thing we got to change. It’s not a retrospective, like you need the inception, you need a larger workshop. When I think about retrospective, in my mind, I have a timeframe of about one hour.

Paulo Caroli: If it’s a long period, haven’t done for a while, maybe two hours, more than this is way too tiring. But if you’re talking about it, it’s a whole new product, a platform, a big change we gotta make. We’re talking about here, I don’t even use the word meeting, it’s a large workshop. It’s a multi day workshop that we need to talk about it.

Paulo Caroli: For me, that goes in another bucket. It’s more like in the bucket of discoveries or inceptions, where we figure out what are the things we got to do to move forward? Retrospectives for me goes in the back of let’s do it continuously, very often. So we talk about the small things we can do to accomplish large improvements.

[00:07:37] The Role of Retrospectives in Identifying and Addressing Issues

Bill Raymond: Yeah, I was just in a meeting with a team of developers recently in their retrospective. And one of the things that came up was this whole concept of making, it’s a US based product that they were building with English speakers, but it’s becoming more popular in other countries. And so they did not have this whole concept of localization and internationalization and things like that.

Bill Raymond: And so I know that they are having a big working session to figure out what does that look like for the product. But I did see in the meeting, in the retrospective, they said it’s still possible for us to take things like error messages and text that appears on the screen and format them slightly differently so that they will be, if you will, more localization ready.

Bill Raymond: And so their decision in the retrospective was to just start doing that on new work so that they could start implementing something that led them to that new path without really, if you will, breaking their process and in too big of a way.

Paulo Caroli: Now that’s a really good example because the topic itself showed up in the retrospective. If it is a small topic, you talk about it, you close it, create a Jiri ticket, or whatever it is that small, in the retrospective itself. If it is a larger topic, it fosters a conversation, or another meeting, or to schedule a whole workshop to handle it, but the topic itself, because it is a team meeting to look for improvement, showed up in the retrospective. Hey, we didn’t know we’re expanding, we’re being more successful than we thought we would. Now the Brazilians are using this amazing digital product. They speak Portuguese. What should they do?

Paulo Caroli: This shows up in the retrospective. We have the conversation and probably move forward to another item that shows up in the retrospective, right?

Bill Raymond: It all sounds great, a team gets together, they talk about their wins, they talk about what they’re going to accomplish in the next few sprints or, what some bigger topics are that they need to move into another meeting or another workshop. But in order to do this, it sounds very mechanical sometimes, and, there are concerns within the team, sometimes people are stressed out because there was a lot of work to be done, there’s still more work to be done in the next two weeks.

[00:09:50] The Importance of Addressing Team Morale in Retrospectives

Bill Raymond: There are maybe people that aren’t necessarily working that well together, and this kind of feels like a time and a place to help coalesce that team a little bit better.

Bill Raymond: And I think that’s your perspective from the FunRetrospectives book.

[00:10:08] How to Improve Retrospectives

Bill Raymond: So can you talk a little bit about maybe what a bad retrospective looks and then maybe how you can improve upon that? We’ll get into the improvements in just a minute.

Paulo Caroli: You touched a point that’s very important. What Scrum says, and I’m advocating for having a retrospective every week or every sprint. If you make it mechanical, it’s going to be very boring. Let’s say every week we do, what was well or not so well with new ideas, or not so well with new ideas.

Paulo Caroli: It’s boring. Fifth time you call me for the same style of retrospective, it’s like I’m bored out. Another thing that can make it boring mechanically is if you only focus on the product, on the work items. Work items, sprint planning, sprint review, it’s all about the work items. But when you talk about retrospective, it’s gotta be about the people, the process, the product.

Paulo Caroli: It’s everything. It’s all the improvements. Whatever makes sense at that moment in time. So I’ll give you an example of one retrospective that went really bad.

Paulo Caroli: We’re doing a normal Scrum team, right? And then I go there to facilitate a retrospective, and we’ll talk about the stories, story points, the work we didn’t finish this week, and the other, put all this in the plan of the retrospective.

Paulo Caroli: I use a simple format not so well, new ideas. But guess what happened? That week at the beginning of the week, the CEO was fired. What’s the point of neglecting the current context and talk about, Hey, what went well, not so well, new ideas for the product? Nothing at all. There is an elephant in the room.

Paulo Caroli: Guess what? Let’s talk about the elephant in the room because we are team working for this organization. Something really big happened. We should talk about it. That’s a retrospective, it’s not only about, oh, let’s only talk about the work. Oh, let’s only talk about not so well related to the work items and news stories.

Paulo Caroli: No it’s. It’s human beings talking, it’s not machines or robots or GPT and AI figuring out how to code for us. It’s human beings, we need to acknowledge the emotions.

Bill Raymond: That’s a really good point. I was just in a retrospective. This is just at the end of last year. We were very rushed to get some work complete due to budgetary reasons, let’s be honest.

Bill Raymond: Anytime you get down to the November and December time period, there’s those last things that people have the budget money to fit into their work, and so that’s what that was.

Bill Raymond: We were trying to get the work done so quickly that there were a lot of process things that we needed to add in order for this to go smoothly. For example when you write code, sometimes what you need to do is write a test associated with it to make sure that let’s say if the user clicks on the button, or maybe they tap on a button, or they use a mouse, or they use their eyes nowadays, with with vision based products, you have to test to make sure that button works effectively.

Bill Raymond: That’s just a simple example. It was, there was some bigger issues there, the point of the matter is that we weren’t writing these tests. And those tests result in a lower quality product. And we started to see that happen. And so one of our retrospectives just focused on, um, let’s figure out how we’re going to get testing incorporated into the process again.

Bill Raymond: It’s something we’ve been doing, but we’ve been neglecting it because we’ve been moving so fast. And part of that ended up escalating to leadership saying, you’re asking us to move too quickly, you’re going to lose quality. That’s going to impact the customers. But I thought that was a really good retrospective where we veered off the path of, "oh, what’s coming up next" to how do we address some issues that could be bigger in the long term.

Paulo Caroli: Another great example, Bill, and I hope you did this in retrospective, not one year after the fact, not even one month. Maybe one week after the fact, you’re like, wow, in retrospective for that decision of, not writing the test, it’s already hurting us. But if you did this every week, you’re like, as soon as, when the, it’s not even a problem, something starts to bother you and you handle it before it becomes an issue.

Paulo Caroli: That’s amazing, I hope, in retrospective, it’s in a short period. So there is no accumulation of things that can become a big issue for the team.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, and that’s what I want to ask you about. This is going to be my first question relating to that because it really struck me that the reason for why we had this issue come up a few retrospectives later is because the team was so overworked, they knew that this was happening, but it didn’t bubble up, it did not turn into a conversation.

Bill Raymond: So people were aware that this wasn’t happening. So what is it that a team needs to do? In order to make sure that those types of conversations occur at the moment, as opposed to later on?

Paulo Caroli: As a facilitator, or as someone that’s going to think about the agenda of the retrospective, you got to think about what should be the context for this retrospective. And then you got to select the proper activity for it. For example, let’s say the team morale is very low.

Paulo Caroli: You got to select activities for acknowledgement, for thank you, you know. I’ll give you an example, the team morale is low, so let’s do a 360 positive feedback. So go in the room, look around, take 20 minutes, write a positive thing about each one of your colleagues.

Paulo Caroli: Everybody has to do this. And then after the fact, make a circle, put one colleague in the center, and then everybody reads to that colleague what they wrote about the colleague. Do this for everybody. That’s it. That’s a retrospective. You increase team morale, because for some reason team morale was low.

Paulo Caroli: So imagine this scenario. Team morale is low, and then you use that retrospective to talk about the problem we had in production last week. What’s going to happen? Team morale is going to go even lower. Sad people works much worse than happy people, you know? That’s the thing. You gotta think about the context of the retrospective.

Paulo Caroli: Or in your example: " Hey we have changed some process because of the deadline. I have a feeling, those shortcuts might be hurting us". So you select the activity that talks about the things we’re doing or not doing. For example, the starfish, what did they do well, not so well we should improve, do more of, less of, you put that format, probably someone’s going to say more of automated testing.

Paulo Caroli: But that’s a choice that you did okay. I think if I selected that activity, that’s probably going to foster that conversation. And maybe the context of retrospective got to be this: " Hey it’s mid-November, our deadline’s coming soon. We know we have to cut some corners. Let’s talk about it."

Paulo Caroli: And then you put an active that shows more off, less off. Basically, you as an organized facilitator are inviting this kind of conversation. So, The whole structuring and building the agenda for the retrospective is very important for what do you want to get out of this meeting.

Bill Raymond: And, I think hats off to the Scrum Master for doing something along those lines and basically saying, I think there might be a problem coming up here and let’s talk about it. Sometimes they’re, what do we call them? Elephants in the room? They’re the things that you you know aren’t going right, but just aren’t spoken.

Bill Raymond: Let

Paulo Caroli: me give you another example, which is a common issue in retrospectives. Let’s say you’re in a team of 10 people, only one tester that’s really concerned about it and the other nine people they’re not concerned about it, right? And then you select as a filtering activity the most common in retrospectives by writes their notes on the board and you do dot voting. Only the tester votes for that thing on the quality.

Paulo Caroli: The rest of the team doesn’t vote about it doesn’t that get selected. Boom, doesn’t show up. Until it’s really bad and becomes a huge issue. On that case, you as a retrospective facilitator, Scrum master, agile coach, whatever it is, by selecting that filtering activity, dot voting, which looks like a good one, was a really bad choice.

Paulo Caroli: Perhaps you can change the filtering activity. Let’s say you use one, there’s one that I call select one and talk. You just go around the room, round robin, and say select one and talk. This way, it’s not about the democracy, it’s about what each person want to talk about. Maybe you can do only one around the room, but that tester is going to select that thing that’s really important and you talk about it.

Paulo Caroli: It’s a small change in the retrospective agenda. I just changed the filtering activity from dot voting to select one and talk. And then that problem was covered.

Bill Raymond: That’s a great example.

[00:18:34] The Seven-Step Agenda for Effective Retrospectives

Bill Raymond: In your book you cover, and I don’t know if we’re going to have time to cover all of them, but you cover sort of the seven step agenda. You have energizers to check in, team building, retrospectives, futurespectives, I like that term filtering and checkout.

Bill Raymond: Can you I don’t know if we, you want to go through all seven of those, or if you’d like to combine those and share why you feel those are so important for a retrospective?

Paulo Caroli: I’ll go through it, because I always have in my mind, like, whenever I’m organizing a retrospective, I always think, Okay, seven steps, seven steps. First one. What is the context? It’s really important. Your retrospective is not just a meeting in the calendar. It must have a context. Some things happen.

Paulo Caroli: What is the context? The context is like, hey, let’s, let’s look back at that really bad production issue we had and let’s retrospective only about that thing. Or let’s have a retrospective about how you’re feeling about the CEO being fired. Or in three weeks we got released to production. So to be honest, let’s not retrospective and look at the future. What should we do from today to three weeks?

Paulo Caroli: Or another example, it’s just a new assembled team, let’s get to know each other. We’re going to use that meeting that’s in the calendar called retrospective, but it is a team building. And put this in the context. So that’s the context, set the context. If you have set, select the context, select the prime directive.

Paulo Caroli: Everybody knows the Retrospective prime directive by Norm Keefe. Regardless of what happened, we literally believe that everybody did the best that they could. But all this is really important. It’s important to read it out loud, the prime directive. So you put people in the room with the spirit of participating of a retrospective, accepting that people did the best that they could.

Paulo Caroli: But that prime directive makes sense for a retrospective. If I’m talking about the future, regardless of what happened, doesn’t make sense. In the book or in the website, FunRetrospectives.com, we have a prime directive for future spectives. Also, if you’re going to use that time to do a team building activity, it’s about team building. We also have another prime directive for that. Context. Two, select the prime directive.

Paulo Caroli: Three, super important, run a quick energizer. Less than five minutes, break the ice. Why is this so important? Because we come from work like, I’m coding a user story, I’m fixing a bug. You want to break the ice. So we come to another state of mind.

Paulo Caroli: about continuous improvement, not only about the work. So energizers are great for this. And maybe you select an energizer that has some meaning behind the scenes, there are great energizers for this. And This was step three. You did all those three in less than five minutes. Five, six, seven minutes.

Paulo Caroli: The next one’s check in. You got to select a very quick activity so you can get a feeling how people are feeling right now as they enter the room. The most common one is safety check. To check if people are safe to talk in public amongst themselves about something.

Paulo Caroli: After the check in, is the main course, is the main activity you’re gonna select to gather data or to let people have conversation.

Paulo Caroli: Then along with the main course, sixth one that goes in my mind is the filtering. How we’re gonna handle that conversation, how you’re gonna filter down, because usually a lot of things show up. And then the last one, check out. You’re about to leave the room, before you leave okay, what are the next steps?

Paulo Caroli: Sometimes next steps look for action items, sometimes next steps just to acknowledge the conversation you had. But those are the seven steps I think about. And the main course, it varies depending, I’m looking back, is it really a retrospective, I’m looking forward, it is a futurespective, or do I just want to do a team building activity. So for main course in the website, instead of having main course, I have three categories. Retrospective, futurespective, and team building, for this reason.

Bill Raymond: Yeah, that’s a great idea. It’s really going in with the expectation that you know exactly what’s going to be covered in that session.

Paulo Caroli: Exactly. The selection of the main course probably has to do with the context. What you had selected for the context. What is a good main course activities to foster that conversation or to gather data from the things you want on the context?

Bill Raymond: I was thinking about Icebreakers. Do you have any of those?

Paulo Caroli: So icebreaker and energizers. If you’re in a corporate meeting, you want it to be fast, you want to be fun and fast. So you gotta be careful not to delegate it because everybody knows some fun activity, right?

Paulo Caroli: So you gotta be careful. ‘cause some of those take too long to explain and follow up. And sometimes they don’t make much sense in the context. So a simple one, increment by one. Let’s do both of us together. Imagine like we’re a group of 10 people. I’m gonna tell the rules.

Paulo Caroli: So I’m gonna start, I’m gonna say the number 1. Someone else has to increment by one and say the next number. Someone else increment by one and say the next number. We cannot raise the hands or doing any facial expression. If two people say the same number at the same time, we go back to number one.

Paulo Caroli: Let’s see how far can we go. I’m going to put on my clock. Only one minute, go! One.

Bill Raymond: Two, four, four. Oh, we both did it! [laughs]

Paulo Caroli: there you go. That’s it. You laugh. That’s enough. Move forward. Maybe that energizer is good. Let’s say we’re having, we’re a remote team and we had a lot of problems with remote communication. That’s a good energizer to talk about importance of "hey, do you know what? You got to raise your hand to do or talk on Slack, whatever it is to gather each other’s attention."

Paulo Caroli: So on the site, there are quite a few energizers like these. You want something that might have a message and it’s simple to understand and it is fast.

Bill Raymond: The other thing that I would like to talk to you about is this safety check in. I like this energizer idea, but what do we do in order to make sure that everyone is safe in their room?

Paulo Caroli: That’s a really important question. In fact, safety is so important that we should try to create and maintain and foster a safe environment during the whole day, right? Not only in the retrospective. But being the retrospective, a meeting that people talk about emotions and problems that happen and look for improvements, you definitely got to make sure that’s a safe environment.

Paulo Caroli: So the first thing you do is the context. The second thing is the prime directive. You’re going to spend one minute reading it out loud and reminding people, look, It’s a safe place. Regardless of what happened, we truly believe that everybody did the best they could. You gotta read that message out loud.

Paulo Caroli: Say we are supposed to be in a safe environment. Then the energizer is great because it breaks the ice, and reminds us that we’re human beings, that we laugh as we did this when we were kids. All the energizers you can use with kids, because we were more fun when we were kids. And make friends again. After that, you have the check in activity.

Paulo Caroli: You might want to choose the safety check. The safety check is one of the possibilities as a check in. That one explicitly asks how safe are you in this group to talk about anything that shows up.

Paulo Caroli: Five being, I’m super safe, I’ll talk about each and every topic. Four maybe some things I won’t talk about. Three, half of the things. And one, I don’t feel safe at all. Of course, this activity has to be anonymously, and you, as a facilitator, have to know how to handle it, because if things show up as low safety, guess what? Maybe the agenda you have thought about is not a good agenda anymore, you know. The safety is important, but if you’re going to use the safety check, it is important that you know how to handle it as well. Don’t just use because you read in the book, it’s there. Okay, let’s move forward to the next thing. No, you gotta acknowledge, I don’t know, if safety is low and do something about it.

Bill Raymond: What’s an example of where you saw the safety was low and had to do something about it?

Paulo Caroli: I’ll give you two bad examples, and one which I think is more appropriate.

Paulo Caroli: One bad example from a facilitator. It has in her mind the agenda I want to go about, and then safety is medium and low. She says, okay, this was a safety check, let’s go to the next activity. What’s the point? People just said I’m not feeling safe, so the important topics are not going to show up. So basically, you neglect people’s feelings and move forward with your agenda. So that’s that for me, it’s a bad outcome.

Paulo Caroli: One that happened before was really disastrous. I was traveling, in fact, to San Francisco, I was back in Brazil, back in the days. And people are doing a whole retrospective on the office space.

Paulo Caroli: And the facilitator asked the safe check, and the safety was low. It was a presentational retrospective. And then the facilitator said as safety is low, and we want to keep it anonymous, I’m going to create an anonymous board and send the link, go back to your laptops, and fill it up. Really bad decision, because safety was low for some reason, and then that reason end up on non polite messages anonymously written on a board.

Paulo Caroli: And one non-polite message gets on top of another non-polite message, and then the whole thing of looking for continuous improvement, you’re getting the opposite effect. So that was another bad outcome of the safety is anonymous, but not what comes after. And now that we give an example, when I came across that situation, what did they do?

Paulo Caroli: I have an agenda in my mind. Oh, I’m gonna ask the safety check. It’s gonna show everybody’s super safe. I’ll move forward to the activity to gather data. I run the safety check. I’m surprised safety is low. So I need to say out loud guess what? I had another activity in mind, but now I’m going to change. The name of this activity now is creating safety. So please put yourself in the shoes of the person, we don’t know because it was anonymous, but put yourself in the shoes of the people that put a three or two not feeling safe. What are the things that you think might be happening that is making that colleague not feel safe?

Paulo Caroli: Write it down and yellow post it. Put on the board. Let’s cluster it. Okay it’s more difficult as a facilitator because you should not comment, maybe read and cluster, but don’t comment because it is a situation that’s uncomfortable. Now you repeat the question before commenting about those clusters.

Paulo Caroli: You repeat the question "Okay, now pick that, I don’t know, pink post it a different color. Write down the things you think we should be doing as a team to help overcome that thing that was making the person feel unsafe?" Cluster, read it out loud. That’s probably about it. You change the agenda, but it’s not even that the attack the elephant in the room because you had no clue what was in the room, but there is something there.

Paulo Caroli: But you gave people the chance to talk about something that’s uncomfortable and how to fix it without saying, I’m the one that was feeling uncomfortable. That’s a great example how to handle a situation where safety checks slow.

Bill Raymond: Thank you for that. I think that’s super important. And what you’re saying is you had set the context for the meeting, but the safety check was low, so you just shifted gears and you said, we’re going to do this other thing instead.

Bill Raymond: I’m thinking about who facilitates these meetings. And that’s been a topic of conversation on this podcast quite a few times. One of the things that I’ve heard people say well, I’m a proponent of the Scrum master being the person that leads the retrospective. And then other people saying we should have a facilitator.

Bill Raymond: Sometimes we don’t have the budget for a facilitator, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on how you manage the facilitation of a meeting like this, who should be responsible, and what is it what might you do if you don’t have someone that can come in as an independent voice?

Paulo Caroli: Another really good and common question, right? Of course, if you have the budget and the luxury to call an external facilitator, or if you know the situation is very difficult, you might have to call an expert on facilitating difficult situations. But we’re talking about Normal teams, day to day, week after week, sprint after sprint.

Paulo Caroli: Sometimes you cannot have an external facilitator, many times, right? And sometimes you don’t even have a Scrum master, it’s several teams that are very advanced, they’re just like amazing performing teams that they don’t need a Scrum master or a coach, they’re amazing performing teams. But they do have the benefit of having continuous improvement.

Paulo Caroli: So what they can do is figure out the agenda, one of them decides the agenda based on the current context the team is going through, and have the step by step in the agenda. So there is not one person facilitating, but saying "Okay, in one minute, let’s just verify the context is correct. Someone reads the context, that’s fine. Okay, who else? Can read now the prime directive, that’s fine. Okay, so now Mary’s gonna run an energizer."

Paulo Caroli: Of course, you talk to Mary. Mary, can you run a quick energizer? She said yes. Mary run the energizer in three minutes. And then, someone else. Okay, we had select here check in active. Read out loud. This is the check in active.

Paulo Caroli: That’s how you run it and run it. So basically, you’re reading the script. So there’s not one person facilitating, but you’re following a script. Especially on the main course, if you only have 30 minutes, you got to say, look, we only have 30 minutes. So let’s gather data for five minutes. We cluster or whatever is the filtering style you’re going to do.

Paulo Caroli: And then we have 20 minutes left, five minutes per topic, only four topics. Those things write it down on the board. So we know it’s five minutes. We need to switch topics. Then, and then you took care of the retrospective did happen without having one facilitator, but there was a thoughtful agenda for running it.

Paulo Caroli: It becomes more difficult if you don’t have a thoughtful agenda on it, right? If it’s just a " Hey it’s in the calendar, let’s go retrospective." It’s harder to facilitate because then it’s a bunch of people sitting in the room, look at each other saying, okay, let’s talk. So it’s that’s more dangerous or less effective.

Bill Raymond: As we are wrapping up on the podcast here. You are a big proponent of retrospectives, obviously, and this is something that you enjoy. What are some of the things that can make a retrospective a little bit more fun?

Paulo Caroli: Acknowledge people. We are human beings, bring, first thing is team building. If you are running retrospectives, consider adding as main course some of the team building activities. And several of those are really fun. When you share personal facts. We gotta learn about each other. It’s fun. I didn’t know that, I don’t know, you play chess or you play guitar, that have five dogs and one cat.

Paulo Caroli: Those things are fun. Those are the things that when I go to the water cooler, I will start that conversation before asking you about the bug. So add activities that are more fun, light-hearted, and activities that foster the thank you word between people, that’s super important, because as we work together, we know that we’ll focus about work, we’ll talk about the bugs, the issue, that’s gonna happen, unfortunately, naturally. The things that don’t happen naturally, it’s for me to share with you that I have three kids, and I’m allergic to cats, and this kind of stuff.

Paulo Caroli: So those things, you can add to the retrospectives, because then you’re forming a team, people that knows each other, they’re going to work better together.

[00:33:18] Wrap Up: The Power of Retrospectives in Agile Teams

Paulo Caroli: And then you make a more fun retrospective, and a more fun and effective work environment.

Bill Raymond: Paulo Caroli, if anyone wants to reach you, how might they do so?

Paulo Caroli: Well, LinkedIn is my house on the beach. Whenever I’m looking around, I’m at LinkedIn, and I reply to it quite promptly. My website paulocarolli.com, it’s just a summary of who I am, and I blog quite often on caroli.org. And of course, for the retrospective stuff, it’s on funretrospectives.

Paulo Caroli: com.

Bill Raymond: Great. If you are listening right now on your podcast app, go down to the show notes and you’ll see the links there to reach out to Paulo Caroli. And if you are on YouTube, that’ll be down in the description.

Bill Raymond: And of course the transcripts along with the links are always on the agileinaction.com website. Paulo Caroli, this was a great conversation. Thank you so much for your time today!

Paulo Caroli: Thank you, Bill. A pleasure to be here and keep on doing amazing podcasts. I love listening to your stuff, man. Really good. Thank you.