Zee Spencer

A Pattern For Distributed Retrospectives

Well-facilitated, compassionate retrospectives (the practice of taking time to discuss how to improve the effectiveness of a team) are, in my experience, the core differentiator between a gelling, high-performing team and a team that struggles to get things done.

Now that I work primarily on distributed teams, I've found that retrospectives are a touch harder. They lack the high-bandwidth feedback of body language that can tell you early on when someone is getting upset or has something to say but isn't quite ready to say it.

A pattern that seems to work is to do distributed retrospectives in near silence.

"Wait!" you may be saying. "Near silence?"

Yep! Silence! Silence is a powerful way to create space for thoughtfulness. It gives team-members who may struggle to express themselves verbally a chance to clearly express their thoughts.

Here's the recipe I follow when facilitating distributed retrospectives:



  • Open with the Retrospective Prime Directive.
  • Fill in initial topics of discussion for five to ten minutes. Once the adding process slows down...
  • Spend about five minutes adding comments and asking clarifying questions in the document. Try to only use your voice to bring attention to a comment in the document. Mixin some up-votes and "+1"'s.
  • Start the discussion with the most active topics.
  • Spend about five minutes per-topic adding specific actions to take on the topic. This is a great time for topic requesters or people with strong opinions to share them.
  • With about fifteen minutes left, ask participants to select a reasonable set of actions they, personally are going to take. Ask participants to add these actions to the project tracking system.
  • With about five minutes left, ask the group to take a moment to popcorn style share something they'd like to celebrate with the group, or something they'd like to get advice about outside the meeting.
  • Close with gratitude and celebration!

Serves remote teams of 2 to 20 (and maybe more)

What patterns have worked for you in your distributed retrospectives? I'd love to

I'm available to provide training and coaching around effective practices on distributed technical teams. Let me know if you're interested!

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