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Retrospectives: just “talk therapy”?

SilverStripe Programme Manager, Tony Dale-Low, reflects on Retrospectives from working in an Agile way. 

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About 2 minutes before commencing a recent retrospective, a team member challenged the need for the team to go into "talk therapy every 2 weeks”. He groaned and said: “Do we really have to have a retrospective today? Can’t we do these every 4 weeks or even less?". Initially I was surprised that someone was challenging a key component of how we at SilverStripe work, and I was concerned if the comments were not addressed with the team, this could derail the retrospective.

As a Scrum Master, I look forward to Retrospectives as the team’s chance to “Inspect and Adapt,” so these comments did make me stop and wonder why the team may not feel the same. I think it’s easy for us, Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches, to drink the Agile Kool-Aid a little too much. In doing so, we forget that the reasons why we do what we do—it’s not always on top of our team members’ mind, especially when working in an agile way is no longer new to your organisation.  

So rather than stamping my feet, shouting and screaming and generally having a tantrum like my three year old might, I ditched the original plan for the retro and turned the question back to the team, and asked them to answer the following:

1. Why do we hold Retros every sprint/ What are the benefits?
2. What would happen if we didn’t?

The result of the team brainstorm was...

Why do we hold Retros every sprint/What are the benefits? What would happen if we didn’t?
We front up to what we have done (sprint performance, things gone well, not well) Bad habits become cemented
We have an opportunity to review when things are fresh. We can apply our learnings immediately, and change what’s not working, rather than 2-3 months later at the end of a project Problems don’t necessarily get fixed
Recognise what’s working well and reinforce these behaviours or practices We don’t get any feedback
Everyone has a chance to contribute, and share their opinion, which also builds team morale and makes us feel part of a team Team communication would drop
We get valuable feedback from our client and build our relationship with the client (At SilverStripe more often than not we have the client involved in the retrospectives) Would not have time day to day to get everyone across the conversation

In my experience the benefits of retrospectives are intangible. Sometimes there is just the benefit in having some “talk therapy” as my team member put it. And elements of the discussion don’t necessarily result in tangible actions. However, in one discussion the team have raised the point that it’s really important to highlight at least a couple of clear actions from the retrospective, and the good practice of assigning an owner, a completion date, along with reviewing the actions again at the start of the next retro help to ensure that visible adaption occurs.

After the brainstorm and subsequent discussion, there was unanimous agreement as to the value of retrospectives in the team process as well as agreement to maintain retrospectives fortnightly.  So as a team we reached a good outcome. Had the original challenge been ignored, an opportunity to review why we do what we do would have been missed.  


It’s a great idea to review with your teams the “whys” of how you work. As the Scrum Master you might live and breathe agile values, principles and agile practices, but you need to remember that it’s not always front of mind for your team members. It can be easy for teams to slip into thinking we do what we do just because “we have to” or it’s just part of “'the process here at our company”, and therefore it’s open to being dropped or seen as an unnecessary overhead by team members.  

It’s also important to remind the team that value gained in the retro will be because of the effort the team put into it, and the quality of output is a team responsibility, not the facilitators. The facilitator has a role to assist in the smooth/efficient running of the session, as well as to help keep the team thinking fresh by using a range of different idea generation and facilitation techniques (retromat can help here if you’re short of ideas).   


About the author
Tony Dale-Low

Tony is a SilverStripe Programme Manager with a passion for building collaborative high performing teams.

Tony has over 10 years experience delivering IT and business projects in New Zealand and the UK using both Agile and traditional project management methodologies. He is PMI accredited as well as being a certified Scrum Master and Product Owner. Tony has a background in Business Analysis and Lean Six Sigma process improvement which translates well to Agile project management. Tony has a love affair with 'Post-It' notes and is happiest with a pen in hand facilitating workshops and encouraging collaboration.

Since joining SilverStripe in 2014, Tony has worked with Clients such as Westpac and Meridian Energy helping them to deliver amazing web experiences.

Outside work he spends time playing Lego and Minecraft with his three young children, as well as mountain biking in the hills behind Wellington.

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  • Hi Russ, he did come around as we talked through the why we we do them and discussed the team benefits. We need to make sure the retro's identify something to improve otherwise the value does drop, so it certainly lead to better retro's going forward.

    Posted by Tony, 08/08/2016 9:03pm (8 years ago)

  • Tony, did the initial detractor fully come back on board then?

    Posted by Russ, 02/08/2016 6:09am (8 years ago)

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