How to nail the first 30 seconds of your retrospective

The first 30 seconds. Such a small amount of time, yet so critical to the success of your retrospectives.

Why are the first 30 seconds so incredibly important?

Think back to the last conference you were at. What did the most impressive talks have in common? Almost certainly, their openings were epic. Within seconds, the presenters had caught your attention. They drew you in. Maybe it was with a funny anecdote. Or a silly story. Or a new way of thinking about an old problem. Whatever it was, it got you immediately interested in the remainder of the session.

Of course, retrospectives are not presentations. They are bottom-up brainstorming sessions. But the principle of “get them engaged within 30 seconds or you’ve lost them” still applies.

So how can we, as retrospective facilitators, get our “audience” involved right from the start?

Here are just two ideas.


As your team enters the room for the retrospective, ask them to say one word that describes how they are feeling about the previous sprint. This has two immediate effects. First, it quite literally gets your team involved from the opening moments. And second, it gives you as the facilitator insight into the collective emotions of the team. This can help you structure the rest of the retrospective appropriately.


Ask each of your team members to think of a famous character from a movie (or book!) that best represents the previous sprint. This is funny! It will get your team laughing. Perhaps someone will say “Darth Vader” — this probably means previous sprints were good, but this one “fell to the dark side”.

See how both of these techniques get your team involved right from the first moment they arrive? That’s the power of the first 30 seconds. Use it to your advantage.

David Horowitz

David is Retrium's CEO & co-founder. Previously an agile coach at an international bank, David experienced the difficulty of running effective retrospectives at large companies first hand. He has a Masters in Technology Management from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Business, as well as Computer Science and Economics degrees from the University of Maryland. He is married to his college sweetheart and is the father of three little ones!