21 Ideas to Get Quiet Teams Talking in Sprint Retrospectives

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A good retrospective is made up of many elements. Most of these ingredients, whether it’s honesty and psychological safety, openness or simply a desire for improvement, are dependent on agile teams expressing their ideas.
If team members aren’t willing to talk about issues and take responsibility for continuous improvement, then retrospectives won’t move forward.
Retrospectives can only be completed with the participation of team members.
Parabol’s activities help teams run better, more democratic and inclusive retrospectives. One common struggle I hear from Scrum Masters or Product Owners is “my team are really silent in retrospectives–how do I get them talking?”
Retrospectives are not only painful when no one speaks up, but they also don’t serve their purpose of fostering continuous team improvement.
This article explains.
Why is your team so quiet during retrospectives?
Why Quiet Retros Are A Bad Sign?
How to get teams talking in retrospectives
Why is your team so quiet during retrospectives?
Sprint retrospectives are unusual meetings because participants are asked to share their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, problems, and/or challenges.
Retrospectives are valuable because they allow for vulnerability and openness. It also makes it more difficult to attend meetings.
There are a few things that could prevent a quieter team speaking up during retrospectives.
There are many reasons team members might be quiet during retros.
Fear of reprisal: People sometimes feel uncomfortable being vulnerable, regardless of whether they are admitting to a mistake or making a confession about it. Members of new teams may feel anxious about their failures being used against them.
Fear of judgment: Everyone wants to be valued by their peers. So some team members–particularly newer ones–may feel that what they have to offer isn’t worth being discussed or will make them look stupid.
You don’t know what you should say? Agile retrospectives are intended to serve the team first, not managers. Sometimes team members feel they don’t have much to offer the meeting and so they keep silent. This is a common problem I see. Team members feel they have contributed by writing retro reflections, but don’t feel confident speaking out on the issue or their thoughts during the retro.
Your team members might also be more introverted. Here are some tips to design more introvert-friendly agile meetings.
Why Quiet Retros Are A Bad Sign
Agile retrospectives can be like team therapy. Each 2 week, you meet together to review the previous two weeks. Like therapy, the goal is not to get all the answers in one session but to make steady progress. It’s impossible for you to move forward and have productive meetings if you don’t open up gradually.
Quiet retrospectives are dangerous. Quiet retros can lead to negative emotions being bottled up and are harmful for your team’s health. If problems or issues are not discussed, addressed, and resolved, they can become toxic.
While experienced and strong teams may be more comfortable discussing issues, newer or less experienced teams might find it more difficult to internalize problems due to various fears or insecurities. These feelings can lead to resentment and a feeling of not being heard in quieter teams, which can cause psychological safety problems.
Retrospectives should be open to communication because:
Teams can improve if they have open discussions. You will keep running into the same problems over and over again without it. This creates a vicious circle, where team members begin to think that retrospectives are boring because the same problems keep coming up.
Communication increases transparency and openness in the team. Teams can be more open and transparent when they communicate.

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