End-of-year retrospectives: better projects for the new year

Written by 
Shauna Ward
December 12, 2022
A driver looking in the rear-view mirror

Look back to move forward

It’s that time of year again — time to reflect, regroup, and plan for the upcoming year. Chances are, you’re already deep into the planning process, but have you taken the time to look back and learn from last year?

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to reflect as a team is with a retrospective, also called a retro. The retrospectives you’ll find in a business setting are typically based on sprint retrospectives (also called Agile retrospectives), one of the core Agile ceremonies. A sprint retrospective is a meeting held at the end of each sprint to reflect on what went well, what needs to improve, and what ideas may have potential. But you don’t need to be on an Agile team to take advantage of retros to learn and grow. The fact is, they’re a useful and underrated tool for any team or working group. Best of all, retrospectives are very flexible. You can use them to reflect on a specific project, a workshop, even the whole year.

Retrospectives are the first step in the planning process

Many teams make the mistake of jumping right into planning without taking time to reflect. But even if you’re already midway through planning, it’s not too late to facilitate a retro with your team or working group.

End-of-year retrospective meetings are essential to any successful team planning for the upcoming fiscal year. Through retrospective meetings, teams can reflect on past wins and misses, allowing them to identify opportunities for improvement going forward. This reflection helps to orient the planning process in a more collaborative way, using past experiences as indicators of what will and won't be effective in the future.

Retrospectives also give team members the opportunity to have their voices heard. When people have the opportunity to contribute to the team culture in this way, they're more invested in the outcomes. By proactively and honestly talking about successes, mistakes, and opportunities, teams can create an environment that's truly aligned with their shared mission and vision. All in all, retrospective meetings are critical for team success and should not be underestimated as a tool for effective planning.

Run an end-of-year retrospective to reflect on the past year

Ready to plan your team retrospective? Here’s what you’ll need.

  • A digital whiteboard: Traditionally, retrospectives have happened in one room with a physical whiteboard and sticky notes. Today, with hybrid and remote teams, chances are you may not be able to get everyone in one room at the same time. You can use Mural to create a digital whiteboard that allows everyone to contribute in real time or asynchronously, no matter where they are in the world.
  • A facilitator: You will need someone to facilitate the retrospective. On scrum teams, this is usually the scrum master. For other teams, it’s typical for the team leader or a project manager to run the session.
  • Psychological safety: Ok, this one’s tricky because it’s not something you can materialize out of thin air. Psychological safety is all about creating a safe space and an overall team climate characterized by mutual respect. When there’s psychological safety, people are comfortable speaking their minds, taking risks, and trying out new things without fear of repercussions. If this is your first time running a retro, your team will probably be hesitant to be 100% forthcoming, and that’s ok. The more you exercise this “honest feedback” muscle, the easier it will be to have honest conversations.
  • The right retrospective structure: There are a lot of different approaches you can take to your retrospective. You can host it in real time, asynchronously so people can contribute on their own time, or some combination of the two. To get you started, we have a series of retrospective templates you can use — read on for more.

5 retrospective templates for every team

Get started with a basic retrospective template that you can customize. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more specific, we’ve rounded up five templates with powerful retrospective ideas that your team can use today. Each one takes a different approach to reflecting on highs, lows, and opportunities. Explore the templates below to find one that fits your needs, and get ready for a successful new year.

All of these Mural templates allow you to collaborate on a shared virtual whiteboard. Sign up for Mural, free forever.

1. Project retrospective

Thoughtfully analyze a recent project for better future outcomes

Project retrospective template in Mural
Get the project retrospective template

A project retrospective is a process where a project team reflects on a completed project or program and looks for opportunities to improve the way they work together in the future. During ongoing projects, many teams run regular retrospectives to continually check in, monitor project progress, and continue to improve the way the team works together.

Who it’s for: Project teams, working groups, cross-functional collaborators

Use it when you want to:

  • Reflect on a completed project
  • Reflect on an ongoing project
  • Improve cross-functional collaboration

Use the project retrospective template.

2. Traffic light retrospective 

Reflect on what to stop, start, and continue in the coming year

Traffic light retrospective template in Mural
Get the traffic light retrospective template

The traffic light retrospective, also called start-stop-continue, is a simple technique that gives teams and individuals an opportunity to review the way they work. It asks participants to consider what processes and activities the team should stop doing, start doing, and continue doing in the new year.

Who it’s for: Project teams, functional teams, individuals

Use it when you want to:

  • Revamp a process
  • Brainstorm ways to improve teamwork
  • Discuss individual performance with your manager or direct reports

Use the traffic light retrospective template.

3. Retrospective radar

Prioritize the team's needs and scale feedback to leaders

Retrospective radar template in Mural
Get the retrospective radar template

The purpose of the Retrospective Radar is to make any kind of reflection point actionable in the spirit of iterative improvement. Going beyond the standard retrospective, it makes it easy to provide feedback to managers and leadership using the radar visualization to prioritize the needs of a team.

Who it’s for: Project teams, functional teams, management teams

Use it when you want to:

  • Combine reflection and planning into one single meeting
  • Set actionable next steps
  • Visualize and prioritize feedback for action by management
  • Highlight how teams are pivoting and prioritizing work

Use the retrospective radar template.

4. What, so what, now what?

Understand one another's perspectives and take action together

"What, so what, now what?" retrospective template in Mural
Get the “What, so what, now what?” template

This retrospective comes from the Liberating Structures framework. It builds a shared understanding of how people develop different perspectives, ideas, and rationales for actions and decisions. It helps to increase trust and reduce fear by allowing teams to learn together. This helps to identify communication breakdowns and assists participants in sorting data and interpretation.

Who it’s for: Project teams, functional teams, cross-functional teams, consultancies

Use it when you want to:

  • Build empathy and understanding
  • Reflect on conflict or a challenging situation
  • Set actionable next steps

Use the “What, so what, now what?” template.

5. Async retrospective

Complete a retrospective asynchronously, when your team can’t collaborate in real time

Asynchronous retrospective template in Mural
Get the async retrospective template

This retrospective template provides space for you and your team to collaboratively reflect on a recent project asynchronously. The working team is invited to complete the first part asynchronously. Once the team is finished, the team leader or project driver completes the final two steps on their own.

Who it’s for: Project teams, functional teams, cross-functional teams, consultancies

Use it when you want to:

  • Complete a basic retrospective asynchronously
  • Include geographically distributed team members

Use the async retrospective template.

Using Mural to run your retrospective

When you create a free Mural workspace for running retrospectives, you’ll unlock all of the templates above (and hundreds more). You’ll also get access to our powerful Facilitation Superpowers™ features that make meetings and workshops more interactive, engaging, and fun. Take advantage of tools like:

  • Timer so you can keep your retrospective on track
  • Private mode to avoid groupthink and reduce the pressure of participating
  • Voting to help your team prioritize the outputs of the retro
  • Sticky notes that make it easy to share ideas and do affinity clustering
  • Integrations with online meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Meet
  • And more!

Try Mural, free forever

About the authors

About the authors

Shauna Ward

Shauna Ward

Sr. Content Marketing Manager
Shauna Ward is a senior content marketing manager at MURAL. As a former remote work skeptic, she enjoys creating resources that help hybrid and distributed teams make collaboration fun, easy, and effective.

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