all hands - retrospective meeting with big groups or teams

10 tips for retrospectives in large teams or groups

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Moderating retrospectives in a small team or small group can already be a challenge. Especially if you have very little time. But what about retrospectives in large teams? These are usually even more demanding. 

Before we developed our tool for retrospectives, we had a variety of experiences with larger groups - often we had customers ask that an entire department (usually more than 15 people) should take part in a retrospective.

I would therefore like to share in the first step, what challenges we have experienced in these larger teams or groups.

Challenges in large team or group retrospectives

1. Conversation atmosphere

When you have a large number of participants, most of them don't know each other so well from everyday life. While you can usually rely on a trusting and open atmosphere among small teams, this is often more difficult for large teams. This trusting atmosphere is extremely important for the psychological security of the team (one of the most important criterion for successful teams).

2. Commitment & discussion distribution

At the same time, having a large group retrospective makes it easier for everyone to withdraw from discussions. So, as a moderator, you have to pay more attention to make sure that all participants are dedicated to participating, are able to get involved and that the distribution of discussions is reasonably balanced.

3. Time management

The more team members, the more topics that can be brought to the table. Timeboxing is therefore essential, in order to be able to adequately accommodate all topics.

Reasons to run retrospectives in large teams or groups

Sometimes you have simply no choice, and have to face these challenges. In practice, we typically see the following reasons for running retrospectives in large teams:

  • A large team is simply cannot be divided into any other long-term groups. According to the Scrum Guide, 9 team members or more would already consist of a “team too large.”
  • A department that consists of several small teams that want to carry out a joint retrospective. In this case, it can be called an “Overall Retrospective” or “Retro of Retros."

The following tips are useful for both scenarios. 

Tips for retrospectives in large teams or groups

Here are our tips for retrospectives in large teams!

Tip 1: Question the participants in the retrospective

A large-scale retrospective should definitely be questioned. Is the general setup really unchangeable? Isn't there a sensible alternative?

In the case of large teams or groups, the first question would therefore be whether the team could be divided thematically or not. We are not a fan of strictly interpreting everything according to the textbook (or in this case, the Scrum Guide), but the limitation of up to 9 team members is no coincidence - up to this size, a productive retrospective can take place without restrictions. So if you are significantly above this number, you should question the team constellation.

In “Overall Retros” with several teams, a frequently used “trick” is that each team only sends representatives of the team to the big group. This way, you can keep the big group's number of participants at least manageable. The LeSS framework for agile work, for example, has also recognised “overall retros” as the meeting of representatives, and refers to this as the “Scrum of Scrums”.

Tip 2: Pay attention to confidential handling of conversations

  • Even if the team is very large, the content (apart from the measures) is still confidential. → This should be pointed out during the moderation.
  • Use a quick check-in to create a casual atmosphere - even if you have little time

Tip 3: Consider the team size when scheduling

The larger the team, the more topics and the longer the discussions.

So, while in a small team you may be used to completing a retrospective in an hour, this will not be possible with larger groups of participants.

The time required depends heavily on the format and method of the retrospective chosen. In our experience, the periods range between these times:

Usual time frame required for retrospectives depending on the team size

  • 5 or fewer participants → 45 - 90 minutes
  • 6 to 10 participants → 60 - 120 minutes
  • 10 to 20 or more participants → 90 - 180 minutes

Feel free to experiment with timeboxing yourself to get a feel for it. Just take a little more time rather than too little at the beginning, and then see which steps can be optimized - the next tips may be helpful!

Tip 4: Parallelization in the collection of topics and ideas

To parallelize the topic and idea generation, formats or methods such as “1-2-4-All” are options. How does this method work?

Everyone first thinks about a topic or a question individually - for example, 2 minutes (1). Then each participant looks for a partner to exchange these thoughts (2), before joining together in groups of four (4) and finally presenting the collected ideas to the group in a prioritized structure (All). 

You can find more detailed instructions for the 1-2-4-All exercise here on Liberating structures.

Tip 5: Do health check retros

An exciting and valuable retro in large groups can also be a so-called health check retro. You evaluate the quality of the sprint in numbers, quantitatively instead of qualitatively.
The procedure is as follows:
  1. Specific statements are presented (see below for examples).
  2. Each team member evaluates the statements anonymously on a survey scale – how much do you agree from 1 to 7?
  3. Optional: The results are discussed. Positive and negative examples are collected that might explain the results. This part potentially takes a long time.
  4. Prioritization is now carried out, with each team member voting anonymously as to which of the statements require the greatest need for action.
  5. An action item is only put down for the statement that has the most votes - not the "second most voted" one - to save time.
The advantage of this methodology is that not everyone has to say something. Instead, you get a feeling for the whole large group via just a few clicks (both in the evaluation, step 2, and in the prioritization, step 4).
It is important that the statements that are evaluated by the team are well selected. Two tips for this: Firstly, take a look at our free 'team health check kit' which might give you some inspiration.
Secondly, you can use our Retrospective Tool Echometer to conduct various health check retro formats - for example, this is a Health Check Retro on team morale. Feel free to try it out:

Note: This retrospective format asks for agreement with the given Health Check items on a scale.

Team Radar Tool Health Check Retrospective
  • Appreciation: My colleagues appreciate my contribution to the team.
  • Team Spirit: There is a trusting working atmosphere in our team.
  • Transparency: Everyone in my team knows who is currently working on what.
  • Recovery & Breaks: I have enough room for breaks in which I can draw new energy.
  • Meeting culture: Our meetings are well structured, yet leave room for creativity and new ideas.
  • Support: In my team, each team member passes on their individual knowledge and experience.

Tip 6: Try Echometer some day

Good retro tools are great support for carrying out retros in large groups (see our list with 14 retro tools in comparison). They can do some of the work for you – including collecting feedback before the retro and prioritizing actions.

In particular, I want to mention the retrospective tool Echometer that I myself helped to develop. It combines insights from psychology with agile best practices to get the best out of team health checks & fun retrospectives - to help to grow your team. 

We provide you with specific (whiteboard) templates in the tool that will help you impress your team. It can be used both online and offline, of course.

By the way, you can use our tool to carry out a retro in a large team without having to register 🙂

You can use this button to open the tool, choose your retrospective questions and invite the team via a link (there are more than 30 kickass retrospective ideas available):

When you get to the end of the retro, if you want to, you can create a free account to save your results.

Learn more on our tool in general here or start for free.

Tip 7: Use breakout sessions

Now that topics are brought together and roughly prioritized - despite a large team or group - the topics should be analyzed in detail in order to derive which small action items could be used to improve them. 

Here, because the larger the group of participants, it is particularly tricky. A bigger groups more likely means that the topics discussed will not be relevant for everyone. To that effect, only a fraction of the team members can contribute to a topic. 

The discussion of certain topics that do not affect all team members equally should therefore be binned or parallelized.

We have had very good experiences using breakout sessions for this: You define the topics and let self-organizing small groups work on each one. Each participant can freely join and leave a group - just like an open space format.

This way, everyone has the opportunity to be involved in the discussions, where they can actively contribute. In the best case scenario, a tangible measure that can be implemented directly in the next sprint is presented alongside the results of the breakout sessions. If the proposed measures appear plausible and worth pursuing for the entire group of participants, the measures are implemented. 

However, it may just be that the small group has not yet been able to come up with a final proposal for a measure. In these cases, a decision can be made to continue the breakout session outside of the retrospective, if the participants consider this to be useful.

Be careful with “half” measures

Nothing is more annoying than a semi-well-thought-out measure that was created under pressure, that nobody wants to take care of. In our experience, it is therefore very important that the moderation in your large team or large group indicates that the decision of another breakout session outside of the retrospective can also be a legitimate measure to continue discussing the topic - Only if it could not be completely analyzed within in the retro time frame.

Tip 8: Collect feedback in advance

Collecting feedback, aka the data gathering phase, can take up valuable time in the retrospective, which you could actually save by asking for feedback in advance.

In order to structure this query of feedback in advance, it often makes sense to combine closed questions with open questions. This way, you receive quantitative feedback on specific aspects and, as a team member, you can continue to contribute your own topics through the open questions. As a pioneer, Spotify also uses targeted, closed questions, the results of which they have baptized and named squad health check.

In relation to this, we have developed a tool that can support you in your retrospective in large teams. You can find more information directly below.

Would you like to conduct a value-adding retrospective in a large team? This is exactly why we developed our tool Echometer. You can find more information about the tool here:


You can probably tell that we would not recommend retrospectives with too many participants for the reasons explained above - precisely because it is so challenging to moderate them and appropriately involve all participants.

At the same time, we hope that with the tips on parallelization etc., you can get the best out of big retrospectives. Because especially when you get used to the constellation of the retro as a large team, it can get easier over time, and the format - despite the hurdles - can be a success.

We are looking forward to your reviews! Incidentally: If you are still looking for variety in your retros , then you can check out this blog post we've written about it. 

If you are searching for fun retrospective ideas, check out our post on 32 Kickass Retrospective Ideas for Agile Teams (including the Mario Kart Retro & Marathon Retrospective).

One of the most effective ways to sustainably develop the agile mindset of teams is implementing an agile health check. Our free team health check kit is there to help you implement it and ask the right questions. Just takes a minute to go through it 🙂

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Try the Spotify Health Check Retrospective!

First question: "😍 We love going to work, and have great fun working together."

Sounds interesting? Try the format in our retro tool:

I just finished my ebook „12 psychology-based retrospective methods“ – Interested?

Christian Heidemeyer, Psychologist & Scrum Master