Back to the sources: Retrospective Basics – Part Three – Stances

In Part One we looked at the my very basics for helpful, effective retrospectives and Part Two was dedicated to variety. In this last part helpful stances are in the spotlight – and as promised, I’ll also share the my secret fuel for Inspect & Adapt.

As a retrospective facilitator YOUR inner stance matters. A lot!

For someone who is rather new to the field, that might not be obvious. Also for people who see retrospectives rather critical (e.g. “a waste of time” or “we better really work”) the part with the stances might be hard to grasp.

Yet I experienced it myself and heard it from colleagues – over and over again – that the inner stance as a facilitator makes a difference. I’d go even further and say: your inner stance as a facilitator is a crucial part to the outcome of your retrospectives.

With practise over the years, with reflecting and learning, I came up with five attitudes or inner stances.

Five Stances of a Facilitator

In short, those five inner stances are:

  1. Be a host
  2. Be clear with others
  3. Be clear with yourself
  4. Be prepared (to be surprised)
  5. Be-lieve

Be a host

Invite people to be part of the retro (activities). And be okay if people opt out.

Of course you may ask for reasons afterwards. You may ask even within the retro. I do that especially then, if more folks choose to opt out:

  • Sometimes if more people opt out, it is a sign, that my suggestion didn’t address the team’s biggest need.
  • Sometimes a bigger opt-out is a sign that the suggested activity really struck a chord in the group. Then often exactly “having that conversation” is the most useful activitiy in that moment. Powerful questions or a ‘What?-So What?-Now What?’ help me to support the people exploring it more.

Be clear with others

Be clear with your facilitation.

Suggest clear, simple rules and model them yourself, e.g. using a (virtual) talking stick. Clarity provides orientation, which we humans need.

Clarity also helps with setting the pace, which in my experience often is too high. It helps slowing down a bit so that true reflection and learning are more likely to happen.

Having some kind of prepared agenda (i.e. what to do and WHY I plan to do it) also helps with adding clarity. For me this is especially important, if I’m rather new with a team or there’s some “bigger people thing” to tackle.

Be clear with yourself

Being clear with others is only as helpful as you are clear with YOUR self. The thing with ‘having a prepared agenda’ also pays into this.

Even more important is: do only stuff YOU are convinced of.

Why is that? you might ask. The easy, straightforward answer is: people will notice if you do something “because someone said so” or “just because it is fancy”.

From my experience I can also share with you: humans notice if you’re not 100% convinced of something that you do.

Example: imagine you intend to play a serious game because you assume it could contain helpful learnings for the team. But: YOU are not fully convinced that A GAME is a good approach because “people might find playing a game child-ish or too-less-work-like”.
I bet: people WILL notice that. You won’t get the best results at least because your facilitator’s mind is clogged with beliefs. YOU are not at your best!

Better choose something that YOU are convinced of and that YOU feel comfortable enough with as a facilitator.

Be prepared (to be surprised)

Being prepared with some sort of facilitation agenda AND being ready to be surprised is one of the big points that grew with my experience.

It’s like dancing with ambiguity. That is somehow related to Open Space technology: there is structure and there is room for things to emerge that need or want to emerge.

For retrospective facilitation this means:

  • have a structure in your mind (or on a piece of paper)
  • and at the same time be ready to dance in the moment and go with what the team needs.

I found the last bit especially true for themed retrospectives. No matter if the team chose a special topic to address in a retro or you as their guide suggested one: It may always happen between setting the intention for a certain topic and the point in time to address it, that more important things emerge.


The last stance may sound simple, almost trivial. Yet for me it is the most powerful. The fifth inner stance is: believe!

Believe in the people you work with AND believe in your self.

Sounds so simple and oftentimes it requires hard (self-development) work at the same time.

For example, it is fairly easy to judge people based on past situations or incidents, even though most “incidents” happen in our own minds.

Believing in people now requires: being in the here-and-now moment to witness what is actually happening. That in turn requires your attention and awareness to observe more (and judge less). Mirroring those observations then back to people requires good communication skills and sometimes even courage.

My (secret) fuel for Inspect & Adapt

Mind the resources, the “things” you can already harvest… no matter how “small” they might appear!

To wrap-up this article series now, here it is: here’s my not-so-secret fuel for humans. Here’s my fuel to keep my own and my teams’ energy to inspect and to adapt:

  1. mind the successes, the achievements, the good stuff to build on
    (a.k.a. “don’t forget to celebrate”)
  2. mind it REGULARLY (even if yours thoughts or other people tell you “we don’t have time”). Do it! Write it down. You might first do it “only” for yourself. And then: Share it with the people.
    Next level could then be:
    • invite people to a gratitude round
    • invite people to a “share something positive from your recent past”

And you?

What’s your take on inner stances as a facilitator? What’s your (secret) fuel to Inspect & Adapt… be it for teams or also for ourselves as individuals?

I’m curious!