Best Practice – Minimize Manager input in Retrospectives

One of Scrum’s main tenants is about self organization. Self organization is difficult enough to achieve on its own, especially with a new Scrum team or a team who has members who are new to each other on it. In the context of this article, when I say “Manager”, I mean someone who has a large amount of input in determining the company advancement (performance reviews, raises, promotions, etc) of any individual on the Scrum Team. It could be someone a team member reports to, or it could even just be a supervisor or team lead. Sometimes a Manager plays a Scrum role like Product Owner or Scrum Master. I’m *especially* talking about those managers. Those managers should not attend the retro, or at the very worst case, should attend only a minor part of the retro(See “Strategies” below).

It should be obvious to Managers (though often it is not), that honest genuine feedback about how to work better as a team is very hard to get with a Manager in the room. Every time a person opens their mouth, they are taking a political risk if their manager is there, and that is not a safe environment for true collaboration and innovation. Managers, if you don’t believe me, try the strategies below for 3 sprints, and judge the results for yourself. You, as a manager, have every right to ask the team, one day after the retrospective is over, for their plan of action on improvements. I say one day after because I’d strongly prefer that you not come into the room where the retrospective is being held once it is over. Often times there are things on whiteboards that you may or may not understand, and again, that becomes unsafe.


  • Appoint a Facilitator
    • If a Manager does not fulfill a Scrum role, then the team should appoint a facilitator, preferably one totally independent of the team. Good candidates for this are Members of other teams with good facilitation skills and/or Scrum Masters from other teams. As a last resort, if that’s not possible, then appoint someone on the team who would be a good “neutral” facilitator. It’s ok if that team member also participates in the retro, but you can leave that decision up to them. Have the team prepare any specific feedback that they have that involves the Manager in their private retrospective, and present that feedback to the manager as a team. (Remember that they may have no specific feedback for the Manager, but often they will ask the Manager’s help in implementing Retrospective Action Items.)
  • Part-Time Retrospecter
    • In the case where a Manager(or team lead) plays one of the Scrum roles (PO, SM, or developer), have the team, as part of their retro without the Manager, decide which topics will be discussed with the Manager. Any topic that is not chosen for discussion is not discussed with the Manager. In particular, any feedback the team has for the Manager in their Scrum role, have the team present that as a unified team rather than individuals. Also allow the Manager to raise their own independent topics, of course. If the Manager strays into one of the topics that the team has not chosen to discuss, then inform the manager of the outcome of the team discussion.

Excluding the Manager from the Retrospective is not an attempt to usurp the Manager’s authority or anything like that. It is to create the safety and experimentation that is required for great innovations to occur. The Manager still has a very important role to play — see The role of Managers in Scrum .

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