I facilitate my team’s retrospectives. Should I also participate in the discussion?

I facilitate my team’s retrospectives. Should I also participate in the discussion?

Maybe. This is a land mind 💥 and you have to be careful no matter which path you take. Here’s why.

Retrospectives are all about Actionable Team Learning. To enable whole-team learning, it makes sense for everyone on the team to participate in the retrospective. That includes you. You have impediments, too! As a member of the team, you deserve a chance to share them. You also have good ideas that might help the group arrive at better action items or experiments. If you intentionally hide these ideas, wouldn’t you be doing the team a disservice?

There’s only one problem. As a facilitator, maintaining a neutral stance is important. Why? There are many reasons. To name just one: facilitation is hard enough, even when your “only” jobs are the four jobs of the facilitator. Add into the mix the responsibility to share and debate content, and it’s too much for almost anyone to handle.

So what should you do? Well, first you might consider getting an external facilitator to run your retrospective for you. This could be an agile coach at your organization. Or possibly someone from another team. That way you can focus on participating, and not on facilitating.

But you’ll likely end up facilitating your own team’s retrospectives on a frequent basis anyway. In that case, one suggestion that I learned from Marc Loeffler in his book Improving Agile Retrospectives is to “make it clear which role you are currently holding.”

Marc’s suggests either making verbal announcements to the group, like “I’m going to become a participant now” or “Back to my facilitator’s role!”. Another option is to make it clear visually which role you are currently in. For example, you might bring two hats to your retrospective (yes, actual hats!). One is your “facilitator hat” (maybe it looks like 🎩) and the other is your “participant hat” (maybe it looks like 👒). Whenever you switch between roles, put on the right hat to make your current role transparent to the group.

Whatever you do, simply being aware of the difficulty in both participating and facilitating is a step in the right direction.