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

Written by 
Shauna Ward
December 8, 2023
A view looking at the side-view mirror in a car on a mountain highway
End-of-year retrospectives: better projects for the new year
Written by 
Shauna Ward
December 8, 2023

To move forward, look back

As the year comes to a close, it's the perfect time to reflect on the past, regroup as a team, and plan for a successful new year. In this blog post, we'll explore the power of retrospectives and how they can help teams learn from the past and set the stage for better projects in the future. We'll also provide you with five retrospective templates that you can use to facilitate meaningful discussions and drive positive change within your team.

What are retrospectives?

Retrospectives, also known as retros, are a valuable tool for teams to reflect on their past experiences, identify areas for improvement, and generate ideas for growth. Originally derived from Agile methodologies, sprint retrospectives have evolved to apply any team or working group, regardless of their project management approach.

Retrospectives serve as a crucial first step in the planning process, allowing teams to learn from their successes and failures, and make informed decisions for the future. By creating a safe space for open and honest communication, retrospectives empower team members to share their perspectives, contribute to the team culture, and align their efforts towards a shared mission and vision.

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 experiences as indicators of what will and won't be effective in the future.

Many teams make the mistake of jumping right into planning without taking the 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.

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'll 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'll 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.

Next, we'll guide you through five different templates that help you conduct a retrospective with your team. Whether you're reflecting on a specific project, a workshop, or the entire year, retrospectives provide a structured framework to facilitate meaningful discussions and drive continuous improvement.

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 workspace. 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

An image of the Mural traffic light retrospective template
Mural's 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

An image of the Mural retrospective radar template
Use Mural's 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

An image of Mural's 'what, so what, now what?' template
Get the Mural '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

An image of Mural's async retro template
Get Mural's 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 retrospectives

By using retrospectives, you can harness the collective wisdom of your team, learn from past experiences, and set the stage for better projects in the future. 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.